Title:What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and How Do They Work?
Description:Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney Barton Morris explains the guidelines that pertain to federal sentences.
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What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and How Do They Work?

Once somebody is convicted in federal court, the judge has to pass down a sentence. When doing so, a federal judge must take into consideration the federal sentencing guidelines. And that is expressed in a term of months (for example 12 to 24).

Several factors are taken into account when calculating sentencing guidelines. First is somebody’s criminal history, or lack thereof. The more criminal convictions that they’ve had in their past, the higher the guidelines are. If there are no criminal convictions, the lower the guidelines are going to be. Then, the actual offense is taken into consideration. Every offense is going to be associated with a higher or lower guideline point range called a base offense level. That’s where the calculation starts. From there, things can be added to that offense level, and these are offense characteristics or adjustments. These adjustments include acceptance of responsibility, whether a weapon was possessed, or the quantity of drugs involved.

It’s a calculation of many different things culminating into a range of months so that a judge will then use as a starting point. The guidelines are not necessarily mandatory, they’re advisory. So a judge can look at that particular guideline range and say this is an appropriate sentence. But a good federal defense attorney will also point out things that the guidelines don’t take into consideration.