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What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines + Chart 2020?

June 24, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are the strategies used to convict someone who has committed a federal crime. The guidelines were implemented in 1987. In the previous years, it was up to the judge to decide on the sentence to give a federally convicted criminal.

The disparity of judges’ rulings was behind the forming of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Some judges would give longer or shorter sentences compared to people convicted on the same crimes in another judges’ court. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines purpose is ensuring related federal offenses committed under the same settings get equal punishments.

Federal sentencing guidelines come in handy in helping judges convict someone who has committed a federal crime without disparity. They provide federal judges with consistent guidelines when determining how long a convict should serve in prison. These guidelines are not compulsory, but a federal judge who decides not to follow them must explain the decision in writing.

Ways How Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work

Federal judges use a sentencing table that directs them on the suitable sentencing range for every crime. The table has two factors, which are the severity of the crime and the criminal history of the convicted.

1. Severity Of The Crime

There are 43 offense levels in the Guideline, and the higher the offense level, the severe the crime is, leading to lengthy prison sentences. Severe cases such as felony are associated with have high offense levels.

Basically, someone who is convicted of level one offenses will serve a sentence between zero to six months. On the other hand, a convicted person with level 43 offense should be sentenced for life.

Adjustments are often made, and they can lead to either lowering or raising the offense level. If the offender is convicted with several federal crimes, the guidelines enable the federal judge to reach a combined offense level.

Adjustments for acceptance of responsibility can be made when a convict admits to being responsible for the crime. The approval can cause the federal judge to decrease the offense level by two points.

If you have an offense of 16 or more and the government makes a motion that your guilty plea did not overuse the resources before trial, the judge can drop the offense level by one more point.

2. Criminal History Of The Convicted Person

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines states that offenders who have ever been convicted should be given longer prison sentences compared to first-time offenders.

Each time an offender is convicted, they get one point if they happen to be convicted again. For instance, a convict is usually awarded one point for each prior conviction that led in a sentence of fewer than two months. The points will then be added, and the total will determine the criminal history of the convicted person. The Guideline has six different criminal categories ranging from (I), which has the least point and (VI) which has the most point.

Using the Sentencing Table

The sentencing table is easy to use once the federal judges have determined the offense level and the criminal history category.

The offensive level categories are listed on the left side while the criminal history records are listed on the top. Where the two intersect on the table is the number of the sentence that should be imposed. For instance, if one is convicted with a criminal offense of level 8 and criminal history record of I, the penalty imposed will be between zero to six months in prison.

Criticisms of Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The guidelines do not produce equal punishment to the convicted by only focusing on crimes and previous criminal history. Some defense lawyers may negotiate around the guidelines hence creating reasonable sentences for their clients.

The disparity of sentencing will develop between those who follow the guidelines and those that find them unjust.

Reviewing and revising the terms of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is also an expensive and time-consuming exercise.


Typically judges have the freedom to impose higher or lesser sentences in exceptional circumstances. Convicts who plead guilty and work with the prosecution side may receive lesser sentences while those found with lethal weapons such as guns are given higher sentences.

The federal sentencing guidelines may seem complicated, but their ultimate goal is to make things easier for federal judges. Ensuring that there is consistency and uniformity when sentencing the perpetrators is their topmost priority.



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