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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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How Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Impact Your Potential Prison Term?

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 11:32 am

How Do the Sentencing Guidelines Work?

Determining a sentence under the guidelines involves several steps:

  1. Calculating the offense level – Each federal crime is assigned a base offense level indicating its severity. Points are then added or subtracted based on specific offense characteristics. For example, robbery has a base level of 20, but using a firearm adds 5 points.
  2. Assessing the defendant’s criminal history – Prior convictions and sentences are assigned points based on the length of sentence imposed. More points mean a more extensive criminal record.
  3. Identifying the applicable sentencing range – The offense level and criminal history points correspond to a range of months on the sentencing table. For instance, offense level 12 and criminal history I equals 10-16 months.
  4. Considering grounds for departure from the range – Judges can depart upward or downward under certain circumstances, such as substantial assistance to prosecutors or overstated criminal history.
  5. Choosing a specific sentence within the determined range – Where within the range the sentence falls is up to the judge’s discretion.

While this gives a general overview, applying the guidelines to an actual case is complex. Sentencing factors and departures have specific definitions, and the calculations require legal expertise.

What Factors Impact a Sentence Under the Guidelines?

Several components go into determining the recommended sentencing range under the guidelines:

Base Offense Level

Each federal offense is assigned a base offense level indicating its seriousness. Crimes resulting in death or serious bodily injury tend to have higher base levels, while nonviolent or regulatory offenses have lower levels. For example, first degree murder has a base level of 43 (the highest level), while regulatory offenses like wildlife trafficking have a base level of 6 or 8.

Specific Offense Characteristics

After identifying the base offense level, points are added or subtracted based on factors specific to the actual crime committed. Use of a gun, high dollar losses, vulnerable victims, leadership role, and other circumstances can increase the offense level and sentence length. Acceptance of responsibility through a guilty plea can reduce the level.

Criminal History

The sentencing guidelines heavily emphasize a defendant’s criminal record in determining the recommended range. More extensive and serious prior convictions result in more criminal history points and longer sentences for any subsequent offenses. A “career offender” with multiple prior felonies faces significantly higher ranges.

Departures from the Guidelines

In limited circumstances, judges can impose sentences above or below the calculated range. Upward departures for things like terrorism, child crimes, or extreme psychological harm extend the sentence. Downward departures for substantial assistance to prosecutors or overstated criminal history can reduce prison time.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Some federal offenses like drug trafficking and firearm possession carry mandatory minimum sentences set by statute. These effectively override the guideline range and require judges to impose at least the minimum term. Mandatory minimums have faced criticism for limiting judicial discretion.

How Much Do the Guidelines Influence Sentencing?

When they were first implemented, the sentencing guidelines had to be followed and were legally binding on federal judges. However, Supreme Court rulings in 2005 made the guidelines advisory rather than mandatory. While judges are still required to properly calculate the guideline range, they can impose non-guideline sentences if they find it is warranted under the circumstances.

Despite now being advisory, the sentencing guidelines continue to substantially influence federal sentences. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, in fiscal year 2020:
– Less than half (44.5%) of sentences fell within the guideline range.
– 29.9% of sentences received downward departures from the range.
– Only 3.6% of sentences received upward departures from the range.
– 22% of sentences fell below the range through variances, while 0.1% fell above the range.

These statistics indicate the guidelines remain a significant factor, even if judges have more flexibility. Sentences within the range still represent close to half of all cases. And even when sentences fall outside the range, they tend to stay near it rather than drastically exceeding it. The guidelines provide the framework, even if judges can color outside the lines.

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I was searching for a law firm with some power to help me deal with a warrant in New York . After 6 days I decided to go with Spodek Law Group. It helped that This law firm is well respected by not only the top law firms in New York , but the DA , Judge as well. I...

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