The sentencing guidelines apply only to felonies, and not to misdemeanors. The sentencing guidelines were established to serve as a guide in determining what an appropriate minimum sentence would be when a person is convicted of a felony. The guidelines do not dictate your maximum sentence, as the maximum sentence is set forth in the applicable statute.
Felony offenses are categorized into one of six crime groups reflecting the general nature of the social harm involved: crimes against the person, crimes against property, crimes involving controlled substances, crimes against public order, crimes against public safety, and crimes against the public trust.
Felonies are also ranked in terms of severity: the highest being second-degree murder, in a class by itself; then class A through class H, representing a descending order of offense severity. Any felony that is designated as Class A, B, C, or D is a high severity felony. Any felony that is designated as Class E, F, G, or H is a low severity felony.
PRIOR RECORD VARIABLES (PRVs)
The guidelines are a point scoring system. Each class of felony has its own sentencing grid, and is made up of two sides – one which relates to points scored for Prior Record Variables (PRVs), and the other which relates to points scored for Offense Variables (OVs).
There are seven categories of PRVs that relate to a person’s criminal history. Each one is reviewed individually to see if it applies to your case. If it applies, you score points under that variable depending on your individual criminal background. The variables include scoring points for prior high and low severity felony convictions and juvenile adjudications; for prior misdemeanor convictions and adjudications; the offender's relationship, if any, with the criminal justice system at the time of the offense; and for any contemporaneous felony convictions.
Your total points for PRVs are then tallied to determine your PRV level.
OFFENSE VARIABLES (OVs)
The guidelines then measure as many as 20 possible offense variables to see if they apply to your case. These are variables are factors which enhance the severity of the crime that was committed.
The OVs include scoring points if a weapon was used and for its lethal potential; if any physical and/or psychological harm occurred to a victim; if aggravated physical abuse such as torture or excessive brutality occurred; if a vulnerable victim was exploited; if there are multiple victims; if any contemporaneous felonious acts were committed by you but dismissed; if you have engaged in a pattern of felonious behavior within the last five years; if you were a leader in a multiple offender situation; and several other factors.
Not all 20 OVs apply to every crime. The crime group of the conviction offense determines which offense variables are to be considered and scored.
Your total points for OVs are then tallied to determine your OV level.
As stated above, there is one grid for each crime class.
The PRV level and OV level constitute the two dimensions of the sentencing grids; the intersecting cell reflects the appropriate minimum sentence range for that offender and that particular offense. If you have prior felony convictions on your record, the sentencing grid provides for enhanced minimum sentences. Enhanced habitual offender minimum sentence ranges were set by increasing the maximum end of the cell length by 25, 50, and 100 percent for second, third, or fourth felony offenders respectively.
DETERMINATION OF GUIDELINE SCORING
Your attorney will do a good faith scoring of the points that he or she believes will be scored in your case, to advise you on a possible sentence. Oftentimes, guidelines are scored by the prosecutor as well, and there is a discussion as to what each side believes the guideline range will be.
If you are convicted of a felony, the sentencing judge will refer you to the probation department for a presentence investigation and report. As part of this report, the probation officer calculates what he or she believes is the correct sentencing guideline scoring.
Sometimes there is a disagreement on which points should be scored. This could have a significant impact on your final sentence. As such, arguments may be presented to the judge on what variables should be scored. Ultimately, the sentencing judge determines the final scoring of the sentencing guidelines.
Based on changes in Michigan law, guidelines are now considered “advisory” meaning they are no longer mandatory. So, although a judge will ordinarily sentence you within the minimum guideline range, the judge has full discretion to deviate above or below the guideline range.
It should be noted that there are some crimes which contain a mandatory minimum sentence that the judge is required to follow. The most common example is a felony drunk driving charge (properly called Operating While Intoxicated – Third Offense) for which the judge is required to impose a minimum of 30 days in jail.