When judges are determining a sentence in a criminal case, they consider a lot of different factors. But, for the most part, those factors are a product of the sentencing guidelines that apply in every case. In some states, those sentencing guidelines rely almost entirely on two things: offense variables and prior record variables. This article discusses prior record variables (also called “PRVs”).
What are prior record variables?
Prior record variables are factors used to score the severity of a defendant’s criminal record. In Michigan, for example, there are seven PRVs that judges consider:
- PRV 1 (MCL 777.51): Prior high severity felony convictions
- PRV 2 (MCL 777.52): Prior low severity felony convictions
- PRV 3 (MCL 777.53): Prior high severity juvenile adjudications
- PRV 4 (MCL 777.54): Prior low severity juvenile adjudications
- PRV 5 (MCL 777.55): Prior misdemeanor convictions or prior misdemeanor juvenile adjudications
- PRV 6 (MCL 777.56): Relationship to criminal justice system
- PRV 7 (MCL 777.57): Subsequent or current felony convictions
For each of these PRVs, a judge will assign points. For example, for PRV 6 (relationship to criminal justice system), judges are instructed to score it at 0 points if “[t]he offender has no relationship to the criminal justice system,” at 20 points if “[t]he offender is a prisoner of the department of corrections or serving a sentence in jail” or at 5, 10 or 15 points if you fall somewhere in between.
What if prior record variables are scored incorrectly?
Usually, prior record variables are calculated by the probation department. If probation makes a mistake, you or your lawyer should try to correct it during the sentencing hearing just like you would for offense variables. Otherwise, you will have to do so on appeal, which is much harder.
Most of the time, a judge in a sentencing hearing will hear arguments about PRV scoring because they don’t want an appeals court to reverse their sentence. But, in general, issues with PRV scoring are less common than OV scoring because criminal records are more objective than the aspects of the offense at issue might be.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t review PRV scoring carefully. Sometimes, for instance, the probation department will treat something on your criminal record as a prior high severity felony conviction when it should have been a prior low severity felony conviction. The probation department might also use a copy of your record that doesn’t reflect that prior charges were dismissed.
In some states like Michigan, prior record variables have a huge impact in the length of your sentence. Understanding each prior record variable and making sure that the judge scores them correctly at sentencing is very important for your case.