FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES
STATE CRIMES VS. FEDERAL CRIMES
Crimes can take the shape of state crimes or federal crimes. If an offense is a state crime, then it’s charged in state court at the state level. If an offense is a federal crime, then it’s charged in federal court at the federal level.
Examples of federal crimes include:
- Certain drug offenses,
- Fraud, and
If a defendant is found guilty of a federal offense, then the federal court hearing the case determines the defendant’s sentence. Judges in federal court cases determine sentences by using the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
WHAT ARE THE FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES?
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are essentially rules. They’re rules that provide for a uniform sentencing procedure for defendants found guilty in the U.S. federal court system. The rules went into effect in 1987 and recommend the length of a federal prison sentence.
OFFENSE CONDUCT AND CRIMINAL HISTORY
The Guidelines determine federal sentences based primarily on two factors. These are:
- The conduct associated with an offense (also referred to as “the offense conduct”); and,
- The defendant’s criminal history.
There is a specific table, the Sentencing Table, within the Guidelines that uses these two factors to specify a sentencing range. The range is given in terms of months. For example, consider a person found guilty of a federal firearm offense. The Sentencing Table, based upon the level of this defense, and the defendant’s category of criminal history, might indicate that the defendant should be sentenced to 41-51 months in federal prison. If, however, the defendant has an extensive criminal history, the table will recommend a harsher sentence, possibly 84-105 months.
DEPARTURES FROM THE GUIDELINES
Federal judges can make departures from the Sentencing Guidelines. This means they can increase a recommended sentence (i.e., make a sentence more severe) or decrease a recommended sentence (i.e., make a sentence less severe). Judges can make departures based upon:
- The specific facts of a case;
- Any aggravating factors; and,
- Any mitigating factors.
For example, a federal judge can increase a recommended sentence if any of the following are true:
- The defendant caused a death or significant physical injury in the commission of the crime; or,
- A person was abducted, taken hostage, or unlawfully restrained during the commission of the offense.
In a similar way, a federal judge may decrease a recommended sentence if any of the following are true:
- The defendant committed the offense because he was forced to do so (e.g., by means of blackmail or coercion); or,
- The defendant committed the offense while suffering from a reduced mental capacity.
The sentences for federal crimes can grow quite complex. They can also become extremely severe. These two facts mean that, if you or a loved one is facing a federal criminal charge, contact a skilled criminal defense attorney now for help. In addition, please note that even if you have been convicted and sentenced in a federal case, you can still appeal that conviction.
At Black & Askerov, our Seattle criminal defense lawyers have the skill and talent that makes a difference. They have over 30 years of combined experience handling federal criminal charges. They are tireless in their efforts and successful in their representation. Contact them now and get the help you deserve.