What Should I Know About the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

There are many differences between US state court and US federal court. One of the major differences between the two is the existence of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Essentially, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is the document most used to mete out punishments for individuals the courts convicted of federal crimes.

These guidelines intend to ensure that the federal judges impose consistent and fair sentences on those the courts deemed guilty of federal crimes. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, lawmakers put forth the current sentencing table in 1987 and contains 6 levels of offenses.


The Federal Sentencing Guidelines only apply to federal felonies or Class A misdemeanors. Lesser felonies do not use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Overall, there are 43 different offense levels that exist within the guidelines. The higher the level of the offense, the more severe the crime is and the longer the prison sentence associated with the crime is.

For instance, in the event that the courts convict somebody of a level 1 crime, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines he or she would be in prison between 0 and 6 months. On the other end of the scale, a crime of level 43 would warrant life in prison.


Many detractors say that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines’ focus on prior criminal history produces unjust sentences. Additionally, particularly concerning drug crimes, some allege that this has produced different treatments for different races of persons. Some even Advocate getting rid of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines entirely, as they are expensive to maintain and update.

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