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What Are the Federal Crime Sentencing Guidelines?

Federal Crime Sentencing Guidelines

Over the past 30 years, our Warren County criminal defense lawyer, John Caudill,  has prosecuted and defended hundreds of people and companies during complex state and federal criminal cases requiring a precise legal strategy — from preparation to trial — to pursue and secure real results for our clients.

He is the only former Federal Prosecutor in Western and South-Central Kentucky, providing our clients with the legal knowledge, skills, and resources to pursue favorable outcomes for their cases — no matter their federal criminal charges.

If you have been charged with a federal crime in Kentucky, our Bowling Green and Owensboro criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options and how they pertain to your unique case so that you can make informed decisions about your future.

Here is what everyone should know about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in the U.S.

What Are the Federal Crime Sentencing Guidelines

Understanding the Uniform Sentencing Policy for Criminal Defendants Convicted in the Federal Court System

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a set of non-binding rules established by the United States federal court system in 1987 to provide a uniform sentencing policy for criminal defendants convicted in the federal court system.

The guidelines provide for precise calibration of sentences depending on several factors relating to the defendant’s subjective guilt and the harm caused by their actions.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the guidelines are advisory, and the district court must consider them but is not bound by them. However, when a judge determines to depart from the guidelines within their discretion, they must explain what factors warranted the increased or decreased sentence.

How the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work

The guidelines consider the offense’s seriousness, characteristics, adjustments, and the offender’s criminal history.

  • Offense Seriousness

The sentencing guidelines provide 43 levels of offense seriousness — the more serious the crime, the higher the offense level.

  • Base Offense Level

Each type of crime is assigned a base offense level, which is the starting point for determining the seriousness of a particular offense. More severe types of crime have higher base offense levels.

For example, a trespass charge has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32.

  • Specific Offense Characteristics

In addition to base offense levels, each type typically carries several specific offense characteristics. These factors vary from offense to offense but can increase or decrease the base offense level and, ultimately, the offender’s sentence.

For example, one specific offense characteristic of robbery (base offense level of 20) involves using a firearm. If a firearm was brandished during the robbery, there is to be a 5-level increase, bringing the level to 25. If a firearm was discharged during the robbery, there is to be a 7-level increase, bringing the level to 27.

  • Adjustments

Adjustments are factors that can apply to any offense. Like specific offense characteristics, they increase or decrease the offense level.

Categories of adjustments include:

  • Offender’s role in the offense.
  • Victim-related adjustments.
  • Obstruction of justice.

For example, if the offender:

  • Was a minimal participant in the offense, the offense level is decreased by 4 levels.
  • Knew the victim was unusually vulnerable due to age or physical or mental condition, the offense level is increased by 2 levels.
  • Obstructed justice, the offense level is increased by 2 levels.

This is not an exhaustive list of adjustments but is supplied to provide a general idea of how the increase/decrease approach is applied in specific cases.

  • Multiple Count Adjustments

When there are multiple counts of conviction, the sentencing guidelines provide instructions on achieving a “combined offense level.” These rules offer incremental punishment for significant additional criminal conduct. The most severe offense is used as a starting point. The other counts determine whether and how much to increase the offense level.

  • Acceptance of Responsibility Adjustments

The judge may decrease the offense level by two levels if, in the judge’s opinion, the offender accepts responsibility for the offense.

  • Criminal History

The guidelines assign each offender to one of six criminal history categories based on the extent of an offender’s past misconduct. Criminal History Category I is the least severe category, including many first-time offenders. Criminal History Category VI is the most serious category, including offenders with serious criminal records.

  • Determining the Guideline Range

The final offense level is determined by taking the base offense level and then adding or subtracting any specific offense characteristics and adjustments that apply.

The point at which the final offense level and the criminal history category intersect on the Commission’s sentencing table determines the defendant’s sentencing guideline range.

For example, an offender with a Criminal History Category of I and a final offense level of 20 would have a guideline sentencing range of 33 to 41 months in federal prison.

  • Sentences Outside of the Guideline Range

After the guideline range is determined, the court may “depart” from the guideline range if an atypical aggravating or mitigating circumstance exists. The judge may sentence the offender above or below the range. When departing, the judge must state in writing the reason for the departure.

Contact Our Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyer in Bowling Green, Kentucky Today

If you are facing federal criminal charges in Kentucky, John Caudill Attorney at Law offers aggressive defense strategies and trusted legal representation to individuals throughout the Bowling Green area and surrounding communities, including Owensboro, Franklin, Scottsville, Hartford, and Morgantown.

We will thoroughly explain how your charges rate on the federal sentencing guideline scale and build a compelling defense to help mitigate any potential penalties from the start.

If you have been arrested and charged with a federal crime in Kentucky, contact our trusted criminal defense attorney in Warren County today by calling (270) 925-0447 or contacting us online.

We are here to fight for your rights and your freedom. Let’s get started.

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