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Federal Sentencing Guidelines – Definition

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Federal Sentencing Guidelines – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated January 5, 2015, last accessed March 29, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/federal-sentencing-guidelines/.
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Federal Sentencing Guidelines
This video explains what are the federal sentencing guidelines and their use?

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What are the “Federal Sentencing Guidelines”?

In 1980, a federal sentencing commission developed sentencing guidelines for federal crimes. Initially they were mandatory for federal courts, but later became discretionary. The federal guidelines are still very influential in the sentencing process. Some states have model guidelines for use in state-law, criminal cases.

•    Note: Business entities are subject to punishment under the federal sentencing guidelines as well.

Discussion: Do you believe courts should employ standard sentencing guidelines? Why or why not?

Discussion Input

Many would argue that having mandatory sentencing guidelines removed the necessary level of judicial autonomy necessary to carry out justice. Others would argue that the guidelines result in the miscarriage of justice through the imposition of harsh punishment in cases that may not warrant such treatment.

Practice Question: Tommy is convicted under a federal money-laundering statute. He is awaiting sentencing. What role does the Federal Sentencing Guidelines play in the court sentencing Tommy for his illegal conduct?

Proposed Answer

  • Sentencing for all serious federal non-capital crimes begins with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Guidelines process involves:
    • Identification of the most appropriate Guidelines Section for the crime (s) of conviction, based on the nature of the offense (the most commonly applicable are noted in the Guidelines Index).
    • Identification of the applicable base offense level indicated by the section.
    • Addition/subtraction of offense levels per section instructions for the circumstances in the case at hand.
    • Addition/subtraction of offense levels per instructions in those chapters of the Guidelines relating to issues such as role played.
    • Calculations of the criminal history score.
    • Consideration of departures
    • Application Guidelines instructions relating to imprisonment, probation, supervised release, special assessments.


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