July 26th, 2022

Proposed Changes to Pennsylvania’s Sentencing Guidelines

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing has proposed a comprehensive review of the sentencing guidelines.  These proposed changes modify both the offense gravity score categories and prior record score categories.  A working draft of the proposed changes is currently subject to a public comment period and may become effective in the near future.

An offense gravity score is a point value assigned to each criminal offense based on the severity of the offense.  Similarly, a prior record score is a category based on the number and severity of a defendant’s prior convictions, including out-of-state convictions.

Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines use offense gravity scores and prior record scores to tabulate a standard range minimum sentence for a particular defendant convicted of a specific offense. 

Under the current 7th Edition of the sentencing guidelines, originally adopted in 2012, there are 15 offense gravity score categories, 14 general categories, and 1 category for Murder 1 and Murder 2.  The proposed changes expand the number of offense gravity score categories to 42, 36 general categories, and 6 for Murder 1 and Murder 2.  These changes are intended to provide more targeted and consistent sentencing recommendations.  Additionally, these modifications address offense adjustments, sentencing factor adjustments, general enhancement provisions, and certain offense-specific enhancement provisions.  The most notable of these changes are sentencing factor adjustments, which allow for upward or downward departures for circumstances like cooperation, course of conduct, and a defendant’s role in the offense.

Under the current guidelines, there are 8 prior records score categories (0-5, RFEL, and REVOC).  The proposed guidelines would replace these with four categories, 0, Low, Medium, and High.  This modification includes new lapsing provisions where prior convictions no longer count if a defendant has been crime-free for a significant period of time.

Specifically, if a defendant has not committed any criminal offense within the last 10 years, all misdemeanor offenses, all ungraded felony offenses, and all third-degree felony offenses are removed from consideration of his or her prior record score.  If a defendant has not committed any criminal offense within the last 15 years, all offenses except crimes of violence are removed from consideration of his or her prior record score.  Finally, if a defendant has not committed any criminal offense within the last 25 years, all offenses are removed from consideration of his or her prior record score.

There are also significant changes proposed for lapsing of juvenile offenses.  Specifically, offenses committed before the offender turned 14 years old, second-degree misdemeanors, and third-degree misdemeanors are not considered in calculating a prior record score.  At the age of 21, juvenile adjudications for first-degree misdemeanors, third-degree felonies, and ungraded felonies would be excluded from the prior record calculation.  At the age of 25, juvenile adjudications for first-degree felonies and second-degree felonies that are not crimes of violence would be excluded from the prior record score calculation.  If the defendant has been crime-free for a 10 year prior, all previous juvenile adjudications, including crimes of violence, would be excluded from the prior record score calculation.

The proposed guidelines place an offender in a prior record category of 0, Low, Medium, or High based on his or her most serious prior adjudication and the number similarly graded adjudications.  A defendant with no prior convictions has a 0 prior record score, just as under the current version of the sentencing guidelines.  A defendant with 1 or more convictions for ungraded misdemeanors, third-degree misdemeanors, and/or second-degree misdemeanors has a Low prior record score.  A defendant who has 2 or more convictions for first-degree misdemeanors, any number of prior convictions for ungraded or third-degree felonies, or only one conviction for a first-degree or second degree felony or crime of violence has a prior record score of Medium.  Finally, a defendant with multiple convictions for first-degree or second-degree felonies and/or crimes of violence has a prior record score of High.  A crime of violence is defined by statute in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9714(g) and includes murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, strangulation, rape, and robbery, among others.

The proposed basic sentencing matrix includes 7 different offense levels, A through H.  Aggravated and mitigated range sentences are assigned pursuant to these levels, rather than by offense gravity score.

The proposed basic sentencing matrix is provided below, together with the current sentencing matrix, for comparison.  The proposed changes aim to provide a more tailored approach to sentencing.  Offense gravity scores, prior record scores, and potential downward or upward departures in these guidelines play a crucial role in criminal sentencing proceedings.  The experienced attorneys at Gross McGinley, LLP can guide you through pleas, trial, and sentencing proceedings to ensure that you reach the best possible resolution.

Sara Moyer is an associate attorney at Gross McGinley and practices with the Criminal DefenseMedical Malpractice Defense, and Litigation Teams.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.