What is the Sentencing Commission?
The District of Columbia Sentencing Commission (formerly the D.C. Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission) is an independent District Government agency tasked with advising the D.C. Council on issues that promote fair and consistent sentencing policy. Since its inception in 1998, the Commission has conducted research on local and national sentencing practices, developed and implemented the current District of Columbia Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines (the Guidelines) which are used in D.C. Superior Court. The Commission has two primary responsibilities: (1) to monitor the implementation and use of the Guidelines; and (2) to review and analyze data on sentencing practices and trends in the District of Columbia.
Who is on the Sentencing Commission?
The Commission is composed of 17 members: 12 voting members and five non-voting members. Its membership includes representatives from various criminal justice agencies, the judiciary, academic and research institutions, practicing attorneys, and the public. This diverse membership provides a wide range of perspectives in the development of sentencing policy.
The voting members of the Commission are:
Three judges of the Superior Court, appointed by the Chief Judge of the Superior Court;
The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia or his or her designee;
The Director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia or his or her designee;
The Attorney General for the District of Columbia or his or her designee;
The Director of CSOSA or his or her designee;
Two members of the District of Columbia Bar, one who specializes in the private practice of criminal defense in the District of Columbia, and one who does not specialize in the practice of criminal law, appointed by the Chief Judge of the Superior Court in consultation with the President of the District of Columbia Bar;
A professional from an established organization devoted to research and analysis of sentencing issues and policies, appointed by the Chief Judge of the Superior Court;
Two citizens of the District, one of whom is nominated by the Mayor subject to confirmation by the Council, and the other who is appointed by the Council.
The non-voting members of the Commission are:
The Chairperson of the Council committee that has oversight of the Commission;
The Director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections or his or her designee;
The Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department or his or her designee;
The Director of the United States Bureau of Prisons or his or her designee; and
The Chairperson of the United States Parole Commission or his or her designee.
What is the mission of the Sentencing Commission?
The mission of the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission is to promote fair and consistent sentencing policies. The Commission seeks to:
implement, monitor, and support the District’s Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines;
increase public understanding of sentencing policies and practices;
evaluate the effectiveness of the guidelines system in order to recommend changes based on actual sentencing and corrections practice and research.
How do the D.C. Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines work?
The Guidelines combine two important sentencing factors to determine a recommended sentence: the severity of the offense and the criminal history of the offender. For a comprehensive discussion of calculating a compliant sentence under the Guidelines, please refer to the Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Manual.
The Commission has also published several self-guided trainings to help people learn how to use and apply the Guidelines. These trainings are available at https://scdc.dc.gov/service/training-voluntary-sentencing-guidelines.
Can the Sentencing Commission change the laws or punishments for a crime or modify a sentence?
No. While the Commission provides recommendations to the D.C. Council on sentencing policy and practices, it does not have the authority to make or change the current law. This responsibility belongs to the Council. The Commission also cannot change the sentence in an individual case or give legal advice.
How often are the D.C. Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines updated?
The Commission releases a new Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Manual annually. The Commission also issues Sentencing Guidelines Alerts any time a Guidelines rule or policy is updated prior to the publication of a new Guidelines Manual.
Does the Sentencing Commission have regular meetings?
- The Commission generally meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 5 pm. Notice of Commission meetings is published on its website (http://sentencing.dc.gov) and in the DC Register. Almost all Meetings are open to the public and the agendas are provided in advance of each meeting. Minutes for previous meetings are also available on the Commission’s website.
Where can I get more information on the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission or the DC Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines?
The Commission’s website contains a number of resources about the Guidelines and information on the Commission, including historical information, sentencing reports, issues papers, training materials, meeting information, membership listings and agency contacts. The website also includes a digital version of the DC Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Manual (http://sentencing.dc.gov).
In addition, Commission staff is available to provide information to assist in understanding and applying the Sentencing Guidelines. If you have a Guidelines application inquiry, please contact us at (202) 727-8822 or [email protected] The issues raised by the inquiry may also be used to inform subsequent revisions of this Manual.
It is important to note that assistance regarding the use or application of the Sentencing Guidelines provided by Commission staff is not legal advice. Any information provided to or received from Commission staff when seeking assistance is not confidential. Inquiry responses are not intended or expected to form an attorney-client relationship, may be provided by non-attorneys, are not binding on the court or parties in any case, and do not constitute the official opinion of the Sentencing Commission.
What is the difference between the D.C. Sentencing Commission and the D.C. Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission?
From 2006 until 2016 the Sentencing Commission had an additional mandate to examine the District’s criminal code and make recommendations to provide for a uniform and coherent body of criminal law. During that time, the official name of the agency was the D.C. Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission. On October 1, 2016, the D.C. Council established the D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission (CCRC) as an entirely separate D.C. Government agency focused solely on criminal code revision. At that time, the Council transferred the Sentencing Commission’s code revision mandate, responsibilities, and staff to the CCRC. As a result, the Commission’s formal name was changed from the D.C. Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission back to the D.C. Sentencing Commission.