Federal sentencing guidelines are a cornerstone of criminal law in the United States. These rules provide specific mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, ranging from drugs and firearms to sexual abuse of a minor and interstate transportation of stolen money or property.
It’s best to consult with a criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with any type of crime, especially if you have been accused of violating a federal law. It’s important to understand how sentencing guidelines work and what they mean for your case. Understanding more about them can also give you an insight into what might be in store if you plead guilty or go to trial and whether it makes more sense to take that route instead.
This article covers everything you need to know about federal sentencing guidelines, including the types of crimes that are subject to them, penalties for breaking them and how much time you could spend behind bars based on the severity of the crime.
What are Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
Federal sentencing guidelines are guidelines that set out the maximum and minimum sentences according to the severity of the crime. They are guidelines to allocate the proper punishment for the crime committed. The federal sentencing guidelines were established in 1991 with new sentencing laws that went into effect in 1987, but they formerly existed as a guideline for judges prior to then.
Federal sentencing guidelines cover both state and federal crimes, but state sentencing guidelines do not affect federal penalties. (The only exception would be if you were convicted of a federal crime based on a state law.) To determine how much time you will spend behind bars, you need to know what type of crime you were charged with and how severe the offense is related to the guideline. The more severe the charges, the higher your potential sentence.
Sentencing guidelines are usually divided by category, meaning that there are different sets of mandatory minimum sentences for each level of crime severity. For example, if you were charged with a felony drug offense or possession of marijuana, you could face up to five years in prison without parole or probation as well as fines for this specific offense.
Types of Crimes Subject to Federal Sentencing Guidelines
There are many different types of crimes that can be charged under federal sentencing guidelines. Some common examples include drug trafficking, weapons violations and violent crime. The list of crimes subject to sentencing guidelines is extensive.
The most common types of offenses subject to sentencing guidelines are those with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more in prison, though some specific cases like child pornography can be sentenced under them as well.
How Are Sentencing Guidelines Determined?
Sentencing guidelines are determined by the United States Sentencing Commission, which is a federal agency that reviews federal sentencing data to determine the guidelines for specific crimes. The commission consists of 15 members who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
These members represent various divisions and areas of expertise, including judges, defense lawyers, legislators, social scientists, law enforcement officers and educators. Sentencing guidelines were created to help ensure uniformity in criminal punishment. Guidelines have also been designed to protect public safety while providing proportional punishment for offenders and promoting justice administered fairly.
Should You Be Concerned about a Violation of Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
Federal sentencing guidelines generally focus on crimes committed in the United States. If you’ve been charged with a federal crime, your first step in dealing with the matter should be consulting with an experienced criminal lawyer.
If you commit a relatively minor offense that is not punishable by more than five years in prison, then it’s likely that your sentence would be one year or less. On the other hand, if you have a more serious crime like murder that is punishable by 20 years or more, then the federal sentencing guidelines would result in an even harsher punishment. The severity of your crime also determines the length and type of sentence that you could receive.
There are two types of sentencing guidelines—mandatory minimums and advisory maximums—and each is used when determining an appropriate penalty for violations. The exceptions to these types of sentences are when special factors are present which may increase or decrease the penalty recommended by sentencing guidelines or when special circumstances preclude use
Where Can You Find More Information About Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
You can find more information about federal sentencing guidelines by visiting the United States Sentencing Commission website.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when trying to understand how the sentencing guidelines work:
- Crimes that are covered under the guidelines include bank robbery, drug trafficking, gun possession and conspiracy to commit those crimes, robbery and sexual abuse of a minor
- Punishments for violating these guidelines range from probation to life imprisonment
- If you’re convicted or plead guilty, you could be sentenced up to five years or less in prison based on the severity of your crime
Learn More About Federal Sentencing Guidelines
If you are convicted of a federal crime, the sentencing guidelines will play a significant role in the length of your prison sentence. To learn more about sentencing guidelines in the state of Florida, contact our legal team at Hanlon Law Tampa today.
Give us a call today and get in touch with our attorneys to discuss your case.
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