When I meet clients facing criminal charges, the number one question I almost always get is: “What am I looking at?” Sentencing is the pressing question on the minds of any person accused of committing a crime, and that is for good reason because the criminal law has the potential to affect a person’s freedom.
In Pennsylvania, our courts impose sentences generally based on two factors: first, a convicted person’s Prior Record Score (PRS); and second, the Offense Gravity Score (OGS) of the crime the person was convicted of.
The PRS can vary widely from person to person. The PRS categories range from 0 to 5, and there are two specialized categories known as “Repeat Felon” and “Repeat Violent Offender.” What category any particular person falls into is determined based upon their previous juvenile and adult criminal history.
Like the PRS, the OGS also varies widely, but it varies widely based upon the particular crime and the circumstances surrounding that crime. The OGS most often is determined by looking it up in a chart published in Pennsylvania’s Sentencing Guidelines, which are promulgated by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. (The current sentencing guidelines manuals can be found on the Commission’s website: http://pcs.la.psu.edu.)
Once the PRS and OGS are determined in a particular case, what the potential sentence can be is determined by finding where the two numbers meet on one of seven sentencing matrices (or grids). Where the PRS and OGS intersect, there lies what is called the “standard range”—a range of two numbers, representing “months,” which guide a sentencing court in determining what should be the minimum period of incarceration, if any.
The practice of sentencing is extremely fact specific and largely discretionary with the court. Here, we can generally give clients a sense of “what their looking at,” but what actually occurs is based upon a variety of factors, prime among them being the particular sentencing judge.
For clients facing charges in Allegheny County, review of the 2015 Annual Report of the Court of Common Pleas may be helpful in understanding how particular crimes are frequently dealt with. The Annual Report can be found here: https://www.alleghenycourts.us/annual_reports/default.aspx?show=/9HRAzHVy45Caut9+Z577w==. However, those reviewing this report should not presume that their particular charges will be disposed of in similar fashion. Again, sentencing results are based upon a variety of factors, and those facing sentencing should consult with a criminal-defense attorney to advocate on their behalf for the best possible outcome.