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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:49 am
The federal criminal justice system uses a point system to determine a defendant’s criminal history category, which is then used along with the offense level to determine the sentencing guidelines range. This system can be complex, but understanding how it works is critical for anyone facing federal charges.
The starting point for calculating criminal history points is Section 4A1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. This section provides:
There is no limit on points under the first two sections. The 4-point limit in the third section can be exceeded by up to 3 more points under the last section for crimes of violence.
Some key aspects of calculating criminal history points:
The criminal history category is combined with the offense level on the Sentencing Table to determine the sentencing guidelines range. The category dictates the vertical axis on the table while the offense level sets the horizontal axis. Where the two intersect gives the range in months of imprisonment.
For instance, a defendant with an offense level of 20 and a criminal history category of I would have a range of 33-41 months. But a defendant with the same offense level and a category V criminal history would face 70-87 months, showing the significant impact of criminal history on the final sentence.
While judges have discretion to depart from the guidelines, they are still an important benchmark. Understanding how criminal history points work is essential for federal defendants to assess their situation accurately. Consulting with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney is highly recommended.
Not all prior convictions impact the criminal history score. Convictions that are never counted include:
There are also time limitations on counting convictions, generally 10 or 15 years depending on length of the sentence and other factors. Convictions outside the time limit are not counted unless the defendant’s subsequent conduct shows they are evidence of similar misconduct.
In some cases, judges can apply a downward departure and sentence below the guidelines range if they find the criminal history category over-represents the defendant’s actual history. This may occur if:
To obtain a downward departure, the defense must file a motion identifying reasons the criminal history score over-represents the defendant’s background. Evidence such as character references, proof of rehabilitation, and expert testimony may be presented.
Calculating federal criminal history points involves tallying up prior sentences based on their length and nature. The total determines the criminal history category, which along with the offense level produces the sentencing guidelines range. While complex, understanding this system is important for federal defendants to know what they are facing. Consulting with an experienced attorney is highly recommended when facing federal charges.
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