Sentencing Guidelines


Prior to Measure 11, sentences for all crimes in Oregon were governed by a system known as Sentencing Guidelines. This system was established in 1989 by the Oregon legislature. For the most serious crimes, Measure 11 now supersedes sentencing guidelines. However,  sentencing guidelines remain in effect for other crimes.

If Measure 94 passes and Measure 11 is repealed, the most serious offenders will be resentenced under sentencing guidelines. To really understand the debate over sentencing in Oregon, you must understand sentencing guidelines.

The idea of sentencing guidelines was that punishment should be more severe for more serious crimes and more severe for repeat offenders. Sentencing guidelines sets a "presumptive" sentence based on the severity of the crime and also on the offender's record of prior convictions. A sentencing guideline commission was set up to design the system.

Under specific mitigating circumstances, the judge can order a downward departure from the presumptive sentence, thereby reducing the sentence. Under specific aggravating circumstances, the judge can order an upward departure from the presumptive sentence, thereby increasing the sentence. Even for some violent crimes, the judge could reduce the sentence to probation, in which case the offender would serve no time in prison. However, the presumptive sentence is imposed most of the time.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which writes the rules for the Measure 94 sentencing system, when the system was in effect from November, 1989 through March, 1995, judges departed upward in 16% of cases. In other words, the offender got the presumptive sentence or less in 84% of cases.

The presumptive sentence range for a murderer without prior convictions is 10 years to 10 years and one month. After good time, 10 years is 8 years. In the absence of aggravating circumstances, the judge is compelled to sentence within this range. This means that, under the Measure 94 sentencing system, in most murder cases involving "first-time offenders", the murderer received an 8 year prison term.

Crime Victims United has done an analysis of how sentencing guidelines worked in murder cases. Read this analysis to get a good grasp of sentencing guidelines.

What's Wrong With Sentencing Guidelines?

The flaw in sentencing guidelines is that the sentences do not reflect the quantum leap in harm when you go from a behavioral (e.g., drugs) or nonviolent property crime (theft or burglary) to a violent crime. An offender's lack of a prior record may justify a short sentence or even probation in the case of a property crime, but it is no mitigating factor for the victim of a violent crime who, in many cases, has suffered irrevocable harm, ranging from severe emotional trauma to death.

Consequently, the sentencing guidelines prescribed sentences that often fell horribly short of fitting the crime. This caused victims to feel re-victimized by the justice system, engendered in offenders and potential offenders a lack of respect for the justice system, and failed to protect the public.

There are many examples of tragedies that occurred under lenient pre-Measure 11 sentencing laws, including Sentencing Guidelines and its even more lenient predecessor system.

The Passage Of Measure 11

In 1994, the voters of Oregon approved Measure 11 by a margin of nearly 2-1, and Measure 11 now supersedes sentencing guidelines but only for the most serious crimes, ranging from a variety of sex crimes to aggravated murder.

Modification Of Measure 11 By Senate Bill 1049

Measure 11 is a statutory law can be modified by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. In 1997, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1049, with the support of Crime Victims United. SB1049 amended Measure 11. Under this bill, people convicted of Robbery II, Assault II, and Kidnapping II who had no prior serious convictions were taken out of Measure 11 unless they used a deadly weapon or the victim was seriously injured. Offenders in these categories who qualify are sentenced under sentencing guidelines.

Home | Search