Sentencing Guidelines Overview

The system of voluntary/advisory guidelines for circuit courts is the centerpiece of sentencing reform in Maryland. The guidelines have been in place statewide since 1983. The concept of judicial sentencing guidelines was introduced in the late 1970s by the judiciary in response to judicial perceptions of unwarranted sentencing disparity. A judicial Committee on Sentencing was formed by the Court of Appeals and a host of alternative sentencing systems were studied (e.g., determinate sentencing, mandatory sentencing, sentencing councils). In April 1979, the Committee approved a system of voluntary sentencing guidelines for use in circuit courts only. In determining the appropriate sentence range, the guidelines were designed to take both the offender and offense characteristics into account.

The voluntary sentencing guidelines are displayed in three separate matrices, one for person offenses, one for property offenses, and one for drug offenses. The sentence recommendation is determined by the intersection of a defendant's criminal history score and offense seriousness score on each two-variable matrix. Recommended sentence ranges are wide, sometimes encompassing a range of 10 or more years.

The sentencing guidelines are advisory and judges may, at their discretion, impose a sentence outside of the guidelines.  If judges choose to depart from the sentencing guidelines, the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) mandates "The judge shall document on the guidelines worksheet the reason or reasons for imposing a sentence outside of the recommended guidelines range."