Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Understanding the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

In the past, the sentence for any given crime was largely at the discretion of a judge or jury, a practice which often led to a large disparity in punishments among different types of defendants and different geographic areas. In an effort to increase fairness in the judicial system, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which resulted in the creation of the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC). The USSC worked to develop guidelines for judges to use when sentencing defendants in cases of federal crimes. Following these directions would enable the judicial system to standardize penalties delivered in federal courts across the nation.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were intended to be mandatory for use by all federal judges, but a Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker determined that this was unconstitutional. While they are no longer required to be used in all cases, judges still typically employ them in an effort to choose a sentence that will be accepted as reasonable and will stand up in the event of an appeal. If you are facing possible conviction for a federal drug offense, white collar crime, internet sex crime, or other illegal act, the sentence you could receive will most likely be determined according to the guidelines.

How the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Can Affect Your Case

Since their implementation, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines have been used by U.S. Attorneys to secure a dramatic increase in the likelihood of convictions. In 1983 - the year before the passing of the Sentencing Reform Act - approximately 83% of all federal criminal cases ended in a guilty plea, but by 2009 that figure had increased to 96%. Knowing the guidelines, a prosecutor can confront a defendant with the likelihood of receiving a harsh felony sentence of years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. The prosecutor can then use the threat of that potential sentence to secure a plea bargain.

While it may be tempting to accept such a plea bargain offer in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney first. Our lawyers at Gounaris Abboud, LPA, can help you understand all of your legal options. Depending on the circumstances, we may be able to help you negotiate a better deal, secure a dismissal of the charges, or get a full exoneration. Let us put our five decades of experience to work in your defense!