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Federal Sentencing Guidelines Are Still Just Guidelines






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Aug 17, 2015

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Are Still Just Guidelines

If you get charged with a Federal crime, that means that you’re being accused of violating a law that was written by the Federal government, not the state of Maine. It’s a hint as to how serious the charge actually is – the Federal government has much, much more to do than the state of Maine does, so it only concerns itself with crimes that it considers very serious, like murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, gun charges, child pornography and bank robbery. Additionally, because the Federal government is one of “limited powers” – one that can only do something if the U.S. Constitution expressly allows it to act – it can only regulate conduct that has a wide-reaching impact, such as conduct that occurs in more than one state.

Another element of a criminal charge for a Federal crime is the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Back in 1984, the Federal government noticed that Federal judges were giving a wide variety of criminal penalties for very similar crimes. To try to make penalties more uniform, Congress passed the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which categorize crimes into severity, and offenders according to criminal history, to come up with a range of sentencing options.

Needless to say, this created problems. The reason why Federal judges were giving a wide variety of sentences for similar crimes is that they were not, in fact, very similar. Judges are able to look at individual crimes very closely, and this allows them to issue sentences that they believed were just, in the individual circumstances.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines was Congress’ attempt to ruin this, for the sake of uniformity. Instead of allowing a judge and jury to determine the sentence that a defendant should face, the Guidelines mandated that the sentence fall within the range of penalties that it prescribed.

Luckily, this is no longer the case. The United States Supreme Court heard a case in 2005, United States v. Booker, and ruled that mandatory sentencing provisions violated the 6th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees a right to trial by jury. The 6th Amendment requires much more than just the presence of a jury at a criminal trial – it also prevent judges from imposing sentences based on facts that were not found by a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or admitted by the defendant. Allowing this to happen would make the right to a jury much less meaningful, and mandatory Federal Sentencing Guidelines did just that.

With its ruling in Booker, the Supreme Court turned the Federal Sentencing Guidelines from being mandatory, into being just advisory. Now, while Federal judges still have to consider the Guidelines when determining a sentence, they are not required to issue one within the range that the Guidelines specify.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are just another way that Federal criminal charges are different from state criminal charges. Attorney William T. Bly, however, has experience with both types of charges, and knows how to defend them. Call his law office at (207) 571-8146, if you’ve been charged with any type of criminal offense.



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