How Do The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work?

Video Transcript:

If you're going to sentencing in a federal case because you've been convicted of a federal crime or because a loved one has been convicted of a federal crime, one of the things that the judge will look at is the federal sentencing guidelines.

The federal sentencing guidelines were created by congress, they're issued by the United States Sentencing Commission, and what they do is they try to set out a range in months for each kind of federal crime, for each kind of person who commits a crime. They have really three parts.

First they look at a person’s criminal history. So, if the person being sentenced has never committed a crime before, they’re criminal history category one. If they've committed lots of crimes they’re in criminal history category six and the punishments in months get longer if they have more criminal history.

They look at this crime and so if you've committed bank fraud, they look at every bank fraud case and they create an offense level for each kind of crime to try to show that bank fraud is a little bit less bad than murder, but it’s still more significant and other kinds of offenses.

And then there are a set of departures in adjustments to that guidelines range that can happen. If you plead guilty, they take a few levels off the guidelines range. If there were many, many victims, they will they add levels. And so as you work through this book with your attorney that's the basic framework, that's the basic structure for how the sentencing guidelines work.

It's important to remember the guidelines now, thanks to the Supreme Court, are not mandatory. The judge doesn't have to follow the guidelines when imposing sentence, but they're an important part of what the judge will look at when the sentence is decided.