November 01, 2012

Divergent Paths to Federal and Pennsylvania Sentencing Guideline Reforms

By John H. Kramer

When I considered writing this article, I was challenged to discuss why it is that the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines are so well received by the judges of Pennsylvania compared to federal judges’ severe criticism of the federal guidelines. My roles as executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (PCS) from 1979–98 and as staff director for the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) from 1996–98 give me considerable experiences with both guideline systems. While I served both commissions, I did so at very different times in their history, and, of course, federal and state criminal justice systems are quite different in many respects. For example, the criminal jurisdiction generally brings different types of offenders before the court and the federal courts have more staff resources to devote to each case.

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