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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.


“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson