The Federal Sentencing Guidelines
The federal sentencing guidelines determine the punishment for crimes committed under U.S. federal law. The guidelines are used in all United States federal courts throughout the country. State laws do not apply. If convicted of the offense you will be sentenced under the guidelines. For help with your case and its potential punishment, contact a federal criminal lawyer in your area immediately, because you could go to prison if convicted.
In determining a defendant’s sentencing range (the punishment), the guidelines look at two primary factors: the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. There are 43 offense levels, with lower-numbered offenses being the least serious and high-numbered offenses being the most serious. Federal laws state the offense level for each particular crime. Federal drug crimes and federal weapons possession crimes can put even a first-offender into a high offense level.
The criminal history category is simply the defendant’s prior criminal convictions, if any. There are six categories, each one with a number of points assigned to it. A defendant with a lower number of points would be assigned to category 1, which carries the minimum sentences in the guidelines. The more points you have, the higher your criminal history category and the greater your possible sentence. Essentially, points are added based on prior convictions, with 1-3 points being added based on the length of the sentence of the prior conviction, whether the defendant was on probation at the time or had been released less than two years previously, whether any convictions were violent crimes, and other factors.
A table, similar to a grid, will determine the sentencing range for a defendant under the guidelines. The sentencing range is found by matching the appropriate offense level with the appropriate criminal history category. All federal sentences are in months.
Adjustments can be made to an individual’s sentencing range, both up and down. A reduction, known as a 5K1 (named for the rule that allows it), can be granted when a defendant provides substantial assistance to the government in its prosecution. The government must file a motion requesting the reduction, and it will be at the court’s discretion whether to grant it.
Downward departures allow a defendant to be sentenced below his or her statutory minimum. As with 5K1 reductions, it is at the court’s discretion whether to grant the departure. Reasons for allowing a downward departure may include the defendant’s age or health, diminished mental capacity, a finding by the court that the defendant’s criminal action was a marked deviation from an otherwise law-abiding life, or that the defendant acted under duress or coercion in committing the crime.