INTRODUCTION TO SENTENCING STANDARDS
The Arkansas Sentencing Standards, as defined in Acts 532 and 550 of 1993, serve the purpose of equity in sentencing. They provide similar sentences for similar offenders with similar criminal histories. This allows for proportionality in sentencing by creating a balanced correctional system with a continuum of sanctions that reserves the most serious sanctions for the most serious offenders. See A.C.A. § 16-90-801.
HOW THE STANDARDS WORK
The sentencing standards structure adopted in Arkansas is a voluntary procedure for use by those directly involved in sentencing, such as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The Arkansas Sentencing Standards Grid (the Grid) has been adopted by the Arkansas Sentencing Commission (the Commission) pursuant to legislative authority and the Administrative Procedures Act. The Grid may be found here. It is applicable to offenses which occur on or after January 1, 1994. A presumptive sentence for a typical case is determined on a grid with two dimensions: offense seriousness and offender history.
Offense seriousness is determined by reference to a table adopted by the Commission which lists all felony offenses in one of ten levels of seriousness (See Section IV). Offender criminal history is determined by reference to the statute, Arkansas Code Annotated (A.C.A.) § 16-90-803, which allocates points for different levels of felonies, misdemeanors, certain juvenile adjudications, and custody status at the time that an offense was committed.
A.C.A. § 16-90-803(b)(1)(C) states that “the most frequently occurring offenses within each seriousness level are listed on the vertical axis of the sentencing standards grid.” For further explanation of the seriousness levels, individual grid pages representing each seriousness level of the Grid have been included in Section III of this manual. Each page contains a list of the most frequently occurring offenses within that particular seriousness level. Please note that this list does not always represent a complete list of offenses for that seriousness level, only the most frequently occurring offenses. A complete list of offenses, with their applicable effective dates, may be found in the Seriousness Rankings Table. Each page also contains a grid with the presumptive sentence, minimum time to be served prior to transfer eligibility, and the presumptive range. The statutory range for classifications of offenses occurring with each seriousness level is also included on the individual grid pages.
Please note that Act 186 of 2005 removed the five percent (5%) range above or below the presumptive sentence. The presumptive range listed on the individual grid pages of this manual is applicable to those offenses committed prior to July 1, 2005 (the effective date of the Act). See A.C.A. §§ 16-90-803 – 804.
Determining the presumptive sentence for a particular offense is a starting point for the sentencing process. The presumptive sentence is not intended to be the sentence in a particular case unless, in the judgment of the prosecutor and the defense attorney and/or the judge, the offense represents a typical case based upon their experience and knowledge. If the case is atypical, the procedure is defined for departing from the presumption. The full statutory range of punishment is available for all cases.
When there is a departure from the presumptive sentence, written reasons must be provided by the parties to the court. Departure criteria and procedures are determined by statute. See A.C.A. § 16-90-804.
Act 1179 of 2001, codified at A.C.A. § 16-90-803(a)(1)(B), clarifies that sentencing guidelines do not apply to probation revocation proceedings. Thus, written departure reasons are not required in revocation proceedings.