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Former Assistant District Attorney
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney

How do the federal sentencing guidelines work?

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2020 | Firm News

Federal sentencing guidelines apply to any person convicted of a federal crime. These guidelines can be complicated. It is important to understand how they work and the impact that they may have on your federal case.

Categories and offense levels

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, your crime will be assigned an offense level between one and 43. Higher numbers are treated more seriously than lower numbers. Your criminal history may also come into play and will fall into one of six categories.

Sentencing enhancements

Sentencing enhancements can increase offense levels. Crimes that result in federal sentencing enhancements include:

  • Hate crimes
  • Terrorism
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Committing a crime against a government official

Factors that come into play in sentencing enhancements include your role in the crime and whether a firearm was involved.

Sentencing reductions

Just as offense levels can go up, they can also come down. A plea bargain often leads to a sentencing reduction. This can be an important factor to consider when deciding how best to proceed with your case.

Are the guidelines mandatory?

Criminal justice reform advocates have long criticized the federal sentencing guidelines for being too rigid. The courts have moved away from making the guidelines mandatory. Judges are now free to depart from the guidelines at their discretion.

Just because a judge has the power to depart from the guidelines does not render them meaningless. A judge will often turn to the guidelines when making a sentencing decision.

What does this mean for my case?

The sentencing guidelines will impact your case if you are charged with a federal crime. You should discuss your situation with a skilled professional. Once you understand your options, you can decide which is the best path forward for you.