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What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

Posted in Blog on February 13th, 2014

What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules created by the Federal Sentencing Commission in an effort to create a uniform sentencing policy for individuals and organizations convicted of Federal crimes.  The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were originally created as mandatory guidelines but recent developments in the law have changed the mandatory nature of the guidelines.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court’s held in United States v Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) that the Guidelines, as originally constituted, violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.  Since Booker was decided there have been a slew of decisions that have cemented the discretionary nature of the sentencing guidelines.  When determining an appropriate sentence in federal court, federal judges must calculate the guidelines and consider them when determining a sentence but are not required to issue sentences within the guidelines.

The Supreme Court’s latest decisions emphasize that district courts have wide discretion to fashion an appropriate sentence and that courts of appeals will not disturb those sentences absent an abuse of discretion. Gall v. United States, 522 U.S. 38 (2007).  Courts are free to depart from the Guidelines based solely upon disagreement with the Guidelines so long as the court states its disagreement along with sufficient justification for the extent of the departure. See United States v. Parris, 573 F. Supp. 2nd 744, 754-755 (E.D. N.Y. 2008)


The decision in Booker made clear, the Court must still consider all of the factors set forth in 18 USC § 3553(a), which provides that:

The court shall impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary.

The court, in determining the particular sentence to be imposed, shall consider –

(1) the nature of the circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;

(2) the need for the sentence imposed –

(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;

(B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;

(C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and

(D) to provide the defendant with needed educational and vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;

(3) the kinds of sentences available;

(4) the applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth in the Guidelines….

(5) any pertinent [Guidelines] policy statements….

(6) the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and

(7) the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

For more information of Federal Sentencing Guidelines or for a free consultations, please contact Fort Lauderdale Federal Criminal Defense Attorney David J. Sobel at 954-383-3000.