It’s very crucial that you familiarize yourself with the federal sentencing guidelines if you are having been convicted of a federal crime. It’s also just as important if you have a friend, loved one or family member who is awaiting sentencing. These guidelines form the basis of the range of months one can be sentenced to for every crime.
The guidelines were created by Congress and are issued out by the United States Sentencing Commission. The Congress comes up with the maximum penalty, and at times the minimum penalty an offender of a federal crime should be handed. The United States Sentencing Commissions mandate is to look at the circumstances of an offence and create guidelines for sentencing. The goal of these sentencing guidelines is to ensure that there is consistency in federal sentencing nationwide. This translates to ensuring that offenders with similar criminal records and convicted of similar crimes get to serve similar sentences. For an overview of the guidelines, click here.
There are two major frameworks under which the federal sentencing guidelines work. The frameworks are;
The offender’s criminal history
The offender’s criminal history is a significant part of how the federal sentencing guidelines work. It would be unfair to punish a first-time offender the same as a chronic offender in some instances. If the offender has a clean criminal record and has never committed any crime, then they are put under criminal history category one. If the offender has committed many crimes before the one that they are being convicted for in the present, they are placed in the criminal history category six. The higher the criminal history of the offender, the more the months of sentencing they will face in a federal prison. This first framework of federal sentencing guidelines is meant to discourage convicted felons from committing another crime.
The crime committed
Different crimes have different levels of severity. It would be very unfair if a murderer was sentenced for less time than the common thief. The federal sentencing guidelines analyze the crime committed and its severity in determining the appropriate sentencing for it. The offense level of a common thief is much much lower than that of a murder according to these guidelines. When we add bank fraud to the equation, it takes a position in the middle of common thievery and murder. Since they have a higher offense level, a murderer will spend much more months in a federal prison than the person who committed bank fraud and that who committed common thievery. Despite bank fraud and common thievery both being forms of thefts, the former is a much more severe crime than the latter. This means that a person who is convicted of bank fraud will spend more months in federal prison than the common thief.
The departures and exceptions in the guidelines
You should first note that the Supreme Court clarified that judges do have to make their sentencing adhering to the guidelines. There are numerous departures and exceptions from the guidelines both out and within the guidelines to the framework mentioned above. These departures and exemptions are:
A guilty plea
According to the federal sentencing guidelines, if an offender pleads guilty to the offense, they get some leniency. Some levels are taken off their offense level which means they will get a slightly reduced sentencing. This departure is meant to help discourage guilty offenders from wasting the courts time by pleading innocent.
The number of victims
Let’s go back to the banking fraud scenario. If an offender is accused of defrauding just one financial institution, it will be unfair to hand them the same sentencing as an offender how has defrauded numerous financial institutions. In this case, the less the number of victims, the less the offence level one has. This means a little less time in a federal prison. This departure aims to discourage and offender from committing more offenses.
For more insight into the departures from the sentencing guidelines, click here.
According to statistics, more than 75% of federal criminal case rulings in the last quarter of 2014 adhered to the federal sentencing guidelines. This means that despite it not being mandatory for judges to make their verdict according to the guidelines, most rulings still follow it. This is why it’s essential you understand how the guidelines work.