Sentencing guidelines need an overhaul

I read with interest and frustration the May 30 article [“Judge orders 25 years for man who held family hostage in Spotsylvania”]. As a former victim advocate, I have some basic understanding of the state’s criminal sentencing guidelines provided to judges, which although discretionary, are often utilized in Virginia courts.

Sure, judges can ultimately decide on the criminal’s sentence, but judges in Virginia courts sentence defendants within the sentencing guidelines more the 75 percent of the time. When judges depart from the guidelines, they must provide a written explanation to the Sentencing Commission.

I also understand there are formulas used as part of the sentencing guidelines, with an important factor being whether the criminal has any record. If you have no criminal history, start clapping your hands and get out your get-out-of-jail-free card because chances are the guidelines may just work in your favor.

The Spotsylvania County man who has been convicted of three counts of abduction and two counts of child cruelty accepted zero responsibility, expressed zero sorrow for the victims, and was initially found not competent to stand trial could have recently walked out of the courtroom a free man!

Why? The maximum sentence based on the sentencing guidelines was six months. The criminal has been incarcerated since 2017, so time served.

Luckily, due to the severity of the crimes, the judge found an aggravation sentence that gave him 25 years to serve instead.

Whew! We now don’t have to worry if this criminal will be our new neighbor. But this was such a disparity compared to the guidelines.

Come on, Sentencing Commission and General Assembly, get a grip on those sentencing guidelines.

Stacy Harris


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