What Are The Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

A picture of the Supreme Court where the court ruled that the federal sentencing guidelines advisory instead of mandatory.

If you’ve recently been charged with a federal crime in Missouri, you are likely curious about the federal sentencing guidelines and how they will affect your case. The federal sentencing guidelines are a collection of rules that attempt to create a uniform sentencing policy for people convicted of federal crimes. 

It’s important to note that the federal sentencing guidelines are not mandatory. However, judges are required to consider the guidelines when determining an appropriate sentence. If a judge deviates from the federal sentencing guidelines, they must explain the factors that warranted atypical sentencing. 

Individuals charged with a federal crime often face hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences. If you’re currently facing federal criminal charges or are under investigation, it’s in your best interest to consult with a Jefferson City criminal defense lawyer

Contact Kirsch & Kirsch today at 573-222-0826 for your free, confidential consultation. Learn more about the federal sentencing guidelines below. 

History of The Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Before the federal sentencing guidelines, federal judges across the country participated in “indeterminate sentencing practices.” That means that judges were giving defendants vastly different sentencing for similar crimes. 

In response, The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was signed into law. Initially, judges were bound to follow the federal sentencing guidelines. However, in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for judges to be bound to such rules. 

With that ruling, judges were instructed to use the federal sentencing guidelines on an “advisory basis.” 

How Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work? 

The United States Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan and independent agency of the judicial system. Its job is to update the federal sentencing guidelines continually. 

Sentencing for most federal crimes starts with the federal sentencing guidelines. They establish the recommended minimum and maximum sentencing for every federal offense. The guidelines also recommend varying levels of punishment depending on the circumstances and criminal history of the convicted. 

The guidelines advise judges by offering a “point system.” The number of points per individual can range from 1 to 43. Typically, the higher the score, the longer the maximum sentence. That includes prison sentencing, probation, supervised release, etc.

Understanding The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Chart

The federal sentencing guideline chart consists of four zones (A, B, C, D) on its vertical axis. Each zone indicates differences in the maximum penalty recommended for certain points. 

  • Zone A: Maximum 6-month imprisonment 
  • Zone B: Maximum 15-month imprisonment
  • Zone C: Maximum 18-Month imprisonment
  • Zone D: Maximum life sentence

It’s important to note that Zone D comprises most of the chart. A judge calculates a person’s criminal history and the level of offense of their crime to determine the sentencing recommendation.  

Do Federal Judges Have to Follow Sentencing Guidelines?

No. Judges are not bound by the federal sentencing guidelines. However, they typically stick to its recommendations. In some cases, a judge may use their discretion and give a sentence outside the guidelines range. 

For example, if a judge feels that the guidelines recommendations are too harsh (or light), they can independently decide on sentencing. However, the ruling must be “reasonable.” 

What is The Minimum Sentence For Federal Crime? 

The federal sentencing guidelines mainly deal with maximum sentences. However, certain crimes carry “mandatory minimum” sentencing. They are set by Congress and not included in the federal sentencing guidelines. 

Mandatory minimum sentencing typically involves drug crimes. However, it can also be applied to other types of crimes like child pornography charges, certain gun charges, and financial crimes. 

While the federal sentencing guidelines are just advisory, the mandatory minimums are compulsory. A judge cannot sentence someone below the required minimum in most cases. That’s true even if the federal sentencing guidelines oppose the mandatory minimum. 

Contact a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer in Jefferson City MO Today

Suppose you’ve recently been charged with a federal crime or are under investigation. In that case, it’s in your best interest to consult with a skilled federal criminal defense lawyer in Jefferson City MO

At Kirsch & Kirsch, we’ve successfully defended our clients against countless federal and state charges. Our team will work hard to uncover the facts and obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact Kirsch & Kirsch today at 573-222-0826 for your free, confidential consultation.