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The basics on federal sentencing guidelines

It can be hard to understand the intricacies of federal sentencing guidelines as an Indiana resident. However, a successful criminal defense requires a strong understanding of how federal sentencing guidelines work.

The nature of the offense

Every offense is scored with a number representing a level. This number represents the starting point for how serious an offense is. These numbers range from 2 to 43. Offenses like murder or kidnapping are levels toward the top of the scale while a relatively minor offense like trespassing is toward the bottom of the scale.

Many offenses carry modifiers based on factors of the specific offense being charged. With financial crimes like fraud, the level will be adjusted based on the amount of money in question. For crimes like theft or robbery, the use of a firearm can increase the level number.

Adjustments and criminal history

Once the level of the offense has been established, there are two other areas where adjustments may be made. The first is considering circumstances applying to this particular offense. For example, defendants who obstructed justice or who were aware that the victim was particularly vulnerable as a result of disability or age will receive a level increase.

On the other hand, accepting personal responsibility for an offense can lower a defendant’s level. Pleading guilty and admitting to the crime are instances of accepting personal responsibility that can factor into a criminal defense strategy.

Finally, after calculating the offender’s level, the federal sentencing guidelines take into account the offender’s past criminal history. Defendants with minimal or no criminal record can be treated more leniently than defendants previously convicted of serious offenses.

The federal sentencing guidelines can appear confusing at first, but they can be understood as a series of rules for increasing or decreasing the level of an offense. The lower the calculation, the less harsh the sentence will often be.