Few of life’s hardships have the potential to be scarier than facing criminal charges. After all, not only is a conviction likely to plague you for the rest of your life, but you may also have to serve a prison sentence. Depending on the seriousness of the charged offense, your period of incarceration could be quite long.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Congress took note of wide disparities in federal criminal sentences. To bring some predictability and consistency to sentencing, Congress passed a reform measure. Nowadays, an independent body drafts federal sentencing guidelines. Nonetheless, you should realize these guidelines are only advisory. If judges want to deviate from them, however, they must explain their rationale.
Base offense level
When determining a sentencing range for a criminal defendant, a judge first considers the base offense level. The federal sentencing guidelines have 43 of them. Higher base offense levels indicate more serious offenses. For example, first-degree murder has a base offense level of 43, while aggravated assault has a base offense level of 14. Determining the base level is only the first part of the equation, though.
Special offense characteristics
The base offense level categorizes criminal conduct based on its seriousness. Some types of conduct, however, make a crime even more serious. Therefore, the federal sentencing guidelines add points for certain special offense characteristics. For example, while aggravated assault has a base offense level of 14, causing serious bodily injury results in a special offense characteristic enhancement of five points. This results in an offense level of 19 for the criminal conduct.
Finally, judges adjust offense levels up or down based on other factors. For example, if you obstruct justice, your offense level may climb by two points. Accepting responsibility, though, may result in a two-point drop in your offense level. Once you add special offense characteristics and consider all adjustments, you can compare your offense level to corresponding sentencing range.
Clearly, not all crimes are treated the same. But with federal crimes, there are extra complicating factors that can have serious implications on your case.
With such crimes, not all criminal defense attorneys will be able to help. If you’re facing federal charges, it’s important to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney who is experienced in handling this unique type of charge. Having an expert on your side will be your best chance of mitigating the damage – or getting your charges dropped all together.