State Judges Should Consider Out-of-State Convictions in Sentencing: USSC

Print More

Photo by Eric Lin via Flickr

Almost one-third of the total federal offender population in 2018 had convictions in more than one state, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The report, “Path of Federal Criminality: Mobility and Criminal History,” was conducted in accord with congressional requirements that federal courts consider criminal history as a factor in sentencing.

The authors found a high degree of mobility among federal offenders, noting that out-of-state convictions increased the offenders’ points—a metric used to decide sentence lengths and severity.

The findings had “important policy implications” for judges at the state level, the authors said.

“The exclusion of out-of-state convictions in Criminal History Category calculations will inevitably have an adverse effect on the accuracy of Criminal History Category as a predictor of future recidivism,” they wrote. “This is particularly important at the
state level where jurisdictions often solely use convictions in their state to calculate criminal history categories.

“In such jurisdictions, it is important for policy makers to consider the mobility of offenders and subsequent effect on the calculation of criminal history scores.”

“Not including out-of-state convictions will affect the accuracy of criminal history scores which, as noted above, are important to judges in determining an appropriate sentence to impose.”

Among the key findings were that just under one-third (32 percent) of male federal offenders had convictions in two or more states, compared to 17.8 percent of female offenders.

Another finding was that Latinx offenders (31 percent) were the most likely to have convictions in more than one state, closely followed by whites (29 percent), African Americans (28 percent) and others (28 percent).

Immigration offenders were the most likely to have convictions in more than one state (39 percent); while child pornography offenders were the least likely (16 percent) to have convictions in more than one state.

The percentage of offenders having convictions in states other than the state of their “instant offense” varied from a high of 59 percent in North Dakota to a low of 11 percent in the territory of Puerto Rico.

The other states with offenders who had a larger number of other-state convictions were Montana, Wyoming, Washington D.C., and West Virginia.

Just over three quarters (77 percent) of the 19,251 offenders with convictions in more than one state had convictions in two states. Approximately 18 percent had convictions in three states; 3.6 percent had convictions in four states, one percent had convictions in five states; and less than one percent (0.4 percent) had convictions in six or more states.

As demonstrated in other Commission studies, the majority of federal offenders “have criminal history events countable under the guidelines.” Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the 64,178 federal offenders had at least one conviction in their criminal histories in 2018.

The percentage of offenders with any prior convictions varies considerably by their type of instant offense, the report found. The Commission compared seven groups of offenders: firearms, robbery, immigration, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, fraud/theft/embezzlement, and child pornography possession offenders. These offenders comprise 90 percent of 2018 offenders.

The majority of firearms offenders (93 percent) and robbery offenders (88 percent) had at least one prior conviction, while less than half of child pornography-possession offenders (48 percent) had a previous conviction.

The authors of the report were Tracey Kyckelhahn, Ph.D. Senior Research Associate,  at the USSC Office of Research and Data; and Tiffany Choi, Research Associate at  the Office of Research and Data.

To read the full report, click here.

This summary was prepared by Nancy Bilyeau, Deputy Editor of The Crime Report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *