Missouri Panel Reviewing State’s Sentencing Guidelines


A Missouri woman was convicted of videotaping the sexual abuse of her 16-year-old pregnant daughter. Advisory state guidelines recommended that she be put on probation. Instead, a judge sentenced her to 58 years in prison. “If 58 years is an appropriate sentence, which I think it is, then probation cannot be appropriate,” said prosecutor Eric Zahnd, reflecting the frustrations of many that the advisory guidelines are too lenient. The disparity in that case is an extreme example of what critics say can be the irrelevance of guidelines used to try to bring consistency to punishment. Missouri officials are working on an overhaul to try to get the often-ignored guidelines more respect, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The National Center for State Courts says 20 states and the District of Columbia have guidelines, either mandatory or advisory. The center says they remain a hot topic among policymakers concerned with prison crowding and the disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated. (About 12 percent of Americans are black, but they are 44 percent of the prison population.) State Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, who heads the state sentencing commission, has appointed a subcommittee to review the process. It could result in anything from tweaks to the 175-page sentencing guide to a complete overhaul.

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