Federal Sentencing Guidelines

San Francisco Bay Area, California Federal Sentencing Guidelines Lawyer

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a set of rules federal courts use in determining the appropriate sentence for defendants convicted of criminal offenses. Originally, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were mandatory. However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that courts were not obligated to follow the guidelines. Still, most courts apply or at least consider the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in sentencing a defendant.

To decide on an appropriate sentence for a convicted defendant, a judge following the guidelines must first determine:
1) the Offense Level, and
2) the Criminal History Category.

The Offense Level is a number which represents the severity of the crime. A high number corresponds to a serious crime (i.e., murder), and a small number suggests a lesser crime (i.e., simple drug possession). Aside from the type of the crime, the Offense Level may be lower or higher based on aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the crime. Aggravating factors relate to additional bad conduct associated with the crime, such as membership in a gang or possession of a prohibited weapon. On the other hand, mitigating factors include acting under duress, diminished capacity of the defendant, and voluntary admission of an undiscovered crime, among others.

The Criminal History Category number represents the convicted defendant's criminal past. The more prior convictions a defendant has, the higher his Criminal History Category number.

After identifying the Offense Level and Criminal History Category, the judge then looks to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines' Sentencing Table. For every combination of Offense Level and Criminal History Category, the table suggests a range of appropriate sentences. For example, an Offense Level of 6 and a Criminal History Category of III, the table would suggest a sentence of 6-12 months. The judge would then determine the exact sentence within that range.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are very complex and controversial. A prosecutor will often manipulate the Offense Level and Criminal History Category numbers to try and get a harsher sentence. A defendant needs an experienced criminal defense attorney to interpret and correctly apply the guidelines, which can take years off a sentence.

Contact Seth P. Chazin , he has extensive experience interpreting and applying the guidelines, using them to his clients' advantage. With over 20 years of courtroom experience, Mr. Chazin offers his clients the best chance of avoiding or minimizing jail time.

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Seth P. Chazin is a San Francisco Bay Area Criminal Defense Lawyer with over 30 years experience.

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Seth P. Chazin is recognized by Super Lawyer. Super Lawyers® is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This recognition is earned only by the top 5% of attorneys in the state. The selection process for Super Lawyers has many steps and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis. To learn more about the selection process, click here.