Previously, we began looking at the basic structure of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and why it is important to work with an experienced attorney to navigate the sentencing process when the guidelines are at play. As we noted, the guidelines are not mandatory, but federal judges do generally take them seriously.
In addition to determining the seriousness level of an offense and making any appropriate adjustments to that number, federal judges must also take into account the criminal history of the offender before imposing a sentence. In the current scheme there are six criminal history categories based on the offender’s previous record. In making the appropriate determining here, the court has to carefully consider the offender’s criminal record, and this may involve detailed consideration of the way previous cases were resolved.
Once the offense seriousness level has been determined along with the offender’s criminal history category, it is possible to determine the guideline range in terms of imprisonment. The range provided gives federal judges leeway to impose an appropriate sentence based on the circumstances of the case. In advocating for a client in the sentencing phase, a skilled attorney will help ensure that the numbers assigned in connection with both the offense seriousness level and the offender’s criminal history category are appropriate.
In some cases, federal judges will impose a sentence on an offender which is outside the range provided by the guideline. This can happen in cases where there are unusual circumstances which warrant either an upward or downward departure from the guideline range. Although departures from the guideline range are unusual, it is important for defendants to explore the possibility of downward departure with a skilled attorney who is committed to minimizing the offender’s sentence.