What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

As the vice president and deputy general counsel for global compliance enablement at Cisco Systems, Inc., Roxane Marenberg helps the company establish compliance programs in line with a number of different legal frameworks, including the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which have been in place since 1987 and were designed to create a uniform sentencing policy within the U.S. federal courts. The guidelines apply to felonies and more serious misdemeanors. They are non-binding so as not to interfere with a person’s Sixth Amendment rights, but judges take them into account when determining sentences.

The guidelines suggest sentences based upon the seriousness of the crime, as well as the criminal history of the offender. They are quite granular, detailing 43 levels of seriousness based upon the type of crime committed and modified by special characteristics relating to the particulars of the crime. In a fraud sentencing, for instance, the length of prison time suggested is affected by the amount of the dollar loss involved in the fraud. In a robbery, brandishing or use of a firearm increases the seriousness of the crime.

Judges may also take into account a number of other factors through the guidelines. Sentences can be adjusted based upon obstruction of justice, the degree to which the defendant participated in the crime, whether or not the defendant has accepted responsibility for the crime, and other factors. To learn more about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, visit http://www.ussc.gov.