What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines is a set of sentencing recommendations for federal offenses that is published by the United States Sentencing Commission, an independent, bi-partisan agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. Importantly, the Sentencing Guidelines are not mandatory, meaning that federal judges have the discretion to abide by them or not. However, the Sentencing Guidelines are very persuasive to judges, and many federal judges reference and closely follow the Guidelines when sentencing a defendant.
How Do the Sentencing Guidelines Work?
The Sentencing Guidelines set out a Sentencing Table with 43 Offense Levels, which generally overlap with the ranges above and below each other. Federal offenses are assigned a Base Offense Level, and then the Guidelines lay out offense specific characteristics that may increase the Offense Level, such as how the crime occurred or the scope of the crime. Once the Offense Level is determined, the defendant is placed in one of 6 Criminal History Categories determined by the defendant’s personal criminal history. The Sentencing Table provides the sentencing range based on the appropriate Offense Level and the defendant’s Criminal History Category.
For example, the Sentencing Guidelines assign general theft crimes with a Base Offense Level of 6 or 7, if the offense has a statutory maximum term of 20 years’ imprisonment. The Base Offense Level may then be increased by Specific Offense Characteristics, such as the amount of money taken (adding 2 – 30 levels), the amount and nature of the victims (adding 2-6 levels), or the nature of theft.
To put these Sentencing Guidelines in context, an Offense Level of 1 – 8 carries a recommended sentence of 0 – 6 months in prison for first time offenders; however, a repeat offender could face a range of 18-24 months in prison for a Level 8 offense. Likewise, a first time offender who is convicted of committing over $1 million in fraud could face a sentencing range of 57 – 71 months in prison, or an Offense Level 25, found by taking the Base Offense Level of 7, adding 16 Offense Levels to reflect the amount of money taken, and adding an additional 2 Offense Levels because the offense involved fraud on a government healthcare program.
If you have been charged with a federal crime, you should immediately contact an experienced defense attorney. At Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP, our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys help clients across the United States to avoid or minimize criminal penalties. Let us put our knowledge and experience to work for you. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation.