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Sentencing Guidelines – Frequently Asked Questions

Sentencing Guidelines – Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. Does the Commission provide assistance applying the Sentencing Guidelines?


    A: Yes. The Commission provides information to assist in understanding and applying the Sentencing Guidelines. The Commission strongly encourages practitioners to ask questions regarding the application of the 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. The Commission also provides trainings to individuals or groups who would like to learn more about the Guidelines. Additionally, the Commission has online trainings available at:


    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.

  2. Do the Sentencing Guidelines Apply to Misdemeanor Sentences?


    A: No. The Guidelines only apply to felony sentenced (offenses where the maximum period of incarceration is a year or more). However, at sentencing in a misdemeanor case, the judge may consider the defendant’s prior criminal record when determining an appropriate sentence.

  3. Do the Guidelines apply to juveniles?


    A: No, unless the juvenile was convicted as an adult in the Criminal Division of D.C. Superior Court. The Sentencing Guidelines do not apply to juvenile adjudicated in the Family Division of D.C. Superior Court.

  4. Is a judge required to impose a Guidelines compliant sentence in every felony case sentenced?


    A: No. While the Guidelines apply to all felony sentences, they are completely voluntary. This means the judge may choose not to sentence an offender within the available Guidelines sentencing range or sentence type.

  5. If an offender is being sentenced for an offense with a mandatory minimum (i.e. the statute requires the defendant to serve at least a minimum term in prison), but part the applicable Guidelines range is below the mandatory minimum term, can the defendant be sentenced to less than the mandatory minimum?


    No. While the Guidelines are voluntary, applicable mandatory minimums are required to be imposed under the law. The judge must impose at least the mandatory minimum sentence. To be compliant with the Guidelines, the judge should sentence the defendant to a sentence equal or above the mandatory minimum that falls within the Guidelines range.

  6. If a young adult offender is sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA), do the Sentencing Guidelines apply as they would to any other felony sentence.

    A: Yes. The Guidelines apply to offenders sentenced under the YRA just as they would any other adult offender convicted of a felony.
  7. How is an offender’s Guidelines compliant range and sentencing options for each count calculated?

    A: In its most basic form, an offender’s Guidelines compliant sentencing range and sentencing options depends on what Guidelines grid box he or she falls into. The defendant’s grid box is based on a combination of the severity of the offense being sentenced and the offender’s criminal history score. The Commission’s Basic Sentencing Guidelines Training discusses this in further detail and notes some of the exceptions that may apply. It can be found at:
  8. How can I get a copy of the most up-to-date Guidelines Manual

    A: The current and all historic Guidelines Manuals are available on the Commission’s website. They can be found at:
  9. Do the Guidelines indicate the term of probation that should be imposed if a judge suspends all or part of an offender’s sentence?


    A: No. The Guidelines do discuss the length of probation imposed or whether should be revoked upon a violation of the conditions of probation. That decision is up to the judge. However, to be compliant with the Guidelines, sentences follow the revocation of probation must fall within the offender’s original sentencing range/options (unless another exception applies).

  10. The Guidelines Manual contains a list of most felony offenses in the District. Does the Commission have a misdemeanor list?


    A: No. Guidelines Appendices C and C-I list almost every District felony offense. The list displays the Commission’s severity ranking for each offense along with some other helpful information. The Guidelines do not currently apply to misdemeanors; therefore the Commission has not ranked them or compiled a similar list.

  11. What is the difference between a compliant in-the-box sentence and a compliant outside-the-box sentence?


    A: A compliant in-the-box sentence is a sentence that falls within the offenders applicable Guidelines sentencing range and sentencing options. A compliant outside-the-box sentence is a sentence that does not fall within the offenders applicable Guidelines sentencing range and/or sentencing options, however it remains compliant with the Guidelines due to a special circumstance, such as the judge citing a valid departure factor. The Commission’s Calculating Judicial Compliance with the Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Training discusses this distinction. It can be found at:

  12. Are all sentences following a D.C. Crim. Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea bargin compliant with the Guidelines even if the sentence is later determined to be outside of the offender’s Guidelines compliant sentencing range or sentencing options?


    A: Yes. Because most Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreements are reached before a defendant’s criminal history score is calculated, such pleas are automatically considered compliant with the Guidelines.

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