Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

The federal sentencing guidelines are rules that federal judges are required to consider when sentencing someone who has been convicted of a crime. Intended to give federal judges fair and consistent sentencing ranges to consult when they are handing down a sentence, the guidelines are based on both the seriousness of the crime and the particular offender’s characteristics and criminal record.

The guidelines are not mandatory. (United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 20 (2005).) But a judge who wants to impose a sentence that is different—whether it’s harsher or more lenient—from the one calculated by using the guidelines must explain the decision.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are the rules that federal judges use to standardize federal criminal sentences nationwide. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines take into account both the seriousness of the type of offenses(s) and the  defendant’s criminal history. There are 43 levels of offense: The higher the level, the higher the punishment.  There are 6 categories for Criminal History.  The higher the total offense level and the higher the Criminal History category, the higher the advisory guideline sentence under the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Sentencing guideline adjustments can increase or decrease the offense level. For example, if the defendant had a minor role in the offense, there could be a decrease in the guideline. There is also a reduction for ‘acceptance of responsibility” for a defendant who timely pleads guilty and saves the government resources necessary to bring the case to trial.
The federal sentencing guidelines also classify each defendant into one of six Criminal History Categories. Category one is the least serious criminal record and Criminal History Category six includes defendants who are typically career offenders.

Federal Sentencing Adjustments (or Enhancements) in Federal Court

All federal crimes have a base offense level. The base levels help determine the possible sentencing range for a particular federal crime. There are five adjustments that can be made to increase or decrease someone’s base level which in turn will affect whether someone could get an increase or decrease in punishment.
The five adjustments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are as follows:
  1. “Victim” related adjustments;
  2. Adjustments based on the defendant’s “role” in the offense;
  3. Adjustments for “obstructing the administration of justice”;
  4. Adjustments for “defendant’s acceptance of responsibility”
  5. Adjustments for “multiple count convictions.”

1. Victim related Adjustments

The federal base offense level is increased two levels “if the defendant knew or should have known that a victim of the offense was unusually vulnerable” due to age, physical condition, mental condition or if the defendant knew or should have known “that a victim was otherwise particularly susceptible to the criminal conduct.”
If a lot of vulnerable victims were involved, the federal criminal offense level is increased by two additional levels.
The federal base offense level is increased three levels if the victim was either a government official or employee or former government officer or employee or a member of the immediate family of a government officer or employee or former government officer or employee.
The base level is increased two levels if the victim was physically restrained in the course of the offense. Thus in a bank robbery where persons are tied up and bound, this increase would apply.

2. Role in the Federal Criminal Offense

  • Aggravating Role
The federal base offense level is increased four levels if the defendant was an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants or otherwise was extensive.
The federal base offense level is increased three levels if the defendant was a manager or supervisor and the criminal activity involved five or more participants or was otherwise extensive.
The federal base offense level in increased two levels if the defendant was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in any criminal activity that involved participants up to four people.
  • Mitigating Role
The federal base offense level is decreased four levels if the defendant was a “minimal participant” in the crime.
The federal base offense level is decreased for two levels if the defendant was a “minor participant.”

3. Obstructing the Administration of Justice

This can result in a increase in two levels to the federal base offense level.

4. Acceptance of Responsibility

A defendant can get a two level reduction if he “clearly demonstrates” acceptance of responsibility for his offense and his total offense level prior to the reduction is less than 16. A three level reduction applies with a total offense level of 16 or greater when the person provides timely information concerning his own involvement in the offense and timely notifies the United States Attorneys Office of his intention to enter a plea of guilty to avoid any preparation for federal criminal jury trial so that the court can allocate its resources efficiently.

5. Federal Criminal History of Defendant

The federal criminal offense level ranges from offense level 1 to 43. Each particular crime has a base offense level. Specific Offense Characteristics can act to increase the base offense level until a total offense level is determined. The client’s criminal history category will then be used to determine an advisory guideline range in months (generally in prison).
The federal criminal history category is grouped into six categories. The more points assigned to the defendant based on his prior record, the higher the Criminal History Category. The point assessment is based on the following:
  1. Prior sentences greater than one year and one month will be given 3 points.
  2. Prior sentences greater than 60 days but less than one year and one month will be given 2 points.
  3. All other prior sentences are given one point, with a maximum of four points.
  4. For crimes committed while serving a sentence, work release, probation, imprisonment or on escape status, is given 2 points.
  5. If the person committed his current offense less than two years after release from 60-day or greater sentences, is given 2 points.

Federal Classification of Criminal Offenses Federal Court

Under 18.U.S.C. section 3559, the classification of offenses by punishment exposure is as follows:
(A) maximum life or death penalty, a Class A felony;
(B) 25 years or more, Class B felony;
(C) less than 25 years, but 10 years or more, Class C felony;
(D) less than 10 years, but five or more, Class D felony;
(E) less than five years, but more than one year, Class E felony;
(F) one year or less but more than six months, Class A misdemeanor;
(G) six months or less but more than 30 days, Class B misdemeanor;
(H) 30 days or less but more than five days, Class C misdemeanor;
(I) five days or less, or if no jail stated, as an infraction.

Federal Jury Panel

The defendant has a right to an impartial jury drawn from a cross section of the community. Most Federal District Courts draw jurors from voter registration lists. Every time someone votes, their name ends up as potential juror in a federal case. In addition, some Federal District Courts use names from driver licenses issued in their states.
This can sometimes make or break a case. Jurors often have different life experiences. It is quite possible that certain race groups etc. could constitute a substantial number in the community yet be systematically underrepresented or excluded in the jury pool. This could be grounds for a potential challenge.
If you or a loved one has a Federal criminal case, call our Tampa FL offices at(813) 254-0254 for a free consultation.

Speedy Trial Act

Under the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. section 3161, the defendant must be indicted within 30 days from the day he or she was served a federal summons or arrested on federal criminal charges. He or she must be tried within 70 days of the date the federal criminal indictment or the date of appearance on the indictment.  Any pending motions before the court will toll speedy trial time and operate to extend the time for a federal defendant to be brought to trial, absent a written waiver of speedy trial through a date certain signed by the client. The time runs from the last date. In other words, the general rule is that there is a 70 day federal court arraignment to federal jury trial rule.
Federal Pre-Sentence Report (PSR)
Prior to sentencing, the Florida Middle District Court Judge will order a probation report commonly referred to as the “Pre-Sentence Report, (PSR).” Under Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and 18 U.S.C. section 3552, the United States Federal Probation Department is required to prepare a PSR for every defendant provided that there is a record sufficient to do that.
The information contained in the PSR contains:
  1. Information about the history and characteristics of the defendant, his or her prior criminal record, financial conditions, and any thing else that affected the defendants behavior that may be helpful in imposing sentence or in the correctional treatment of the defendant.
  2. The classification of the federal offense and the defendant under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the kinds of sentence and range suggested for the case, and an explanation of any factors that may indicate a departure from the guidelines.
  3. Any relevant policy statement of the Sentencing Commission.
  4. Verified information concerning the financial, social, psychological and medical impact and cost to any victim of the federal offense.
  5. Information concerning the nature and extent of non-prison programs and resources available to the defendant.
  6. Any other information requested by the Middle District of Florida, United States District Court Judge.

If you have been accused of a Federal crime, your best course of action is to contact federal criminal defense attorney Lori D. Palmieri at 813-254-0254 today.

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