Encountering the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
If you are charged with a crime in Federal Court, you will encounter the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines were established in 1987 for the stated purpose of imposing fairness and consistency in federal sentencing practices.
Initially, the Guidelines were mandatory, and a sentencing judge had no choice. However, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Booker ruled that the Guidelines are only advisory in nature and that a sentencing judge’s decision is ultimately controlled by a requirement that the judge impose a sentence that is sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with specified statutory purposes. The advisory guidelines still, however, inform the judge in making a final determination and provide a reasonable estimate of the eventual sentence. Therefore, understanding how the Guidelines work is critical regardless of one’s stance in terms of a trial.
Each federal crime is assigned an “offense level.” The more serious the crime, the higher the offense level. Each offender is assigned to a “criminal history category” based upon his or her history of prior convictions. A first offender will fare better than someone who has a prior criminal history. The intersection of offense level and criminal history category on a sentencing table reveals a sentencing range in months. Typically, a sentence in Federal Court will be within the range determined by the Guidelines.
The Guidelines provide for numerous enhancements and reductions in offense level. In addition to a “base offense level,” each federal crime has attached to it several “specific offense characteristics.” For example, a money laundering offense might have a base offense level of 8. The greater the amount of money involved, the higher the offense level. If the amount in our example is more than $120,000.00, the offense level is raised by 8. In addition, if the funds were derived from the sale of illegal drugs, 6 more levels are added. What began at level 8 is now at level 22. There are other potential enhancements. Level 22, in the lowest criminal history category, corresponds to a sentencing range of 41 to 51 months in prison.
Reductions in Offense Levels
What about reductions in offense level? Those are available, too. If an offender accepts responsibility for his or her criminal conduct, the offense level can be reduced by 2 – 3 levels. If an offender substantially assists the Government in the prosecution of others, there can be a further reduction in offense level at the Government’s discretion.
The Guidelines favor these types of reductions wherein an offender pleads guilty and cooperates against others, and the United States Attorney takes advantage of this process. Since the Booker decision making the Guidelines advisory, sentencing judges in Federal Court enjoy greater freedom in fashioning a reasonable sentence in each case.
These few paragraphs represent a considerable oversimplification of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. If you are charged in Federal Court, you will need someone who is an expert in deciphering and using these guidelines to your advantage.
In Lake County, call 440.946.7656
In Cuyahoga County, call 216.861.4211