Federal Sentencing Law

In federal cases, prison sentences are determined according to a set of rules called the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These rules set out the amount of time to be served if you are convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor in the United States federal court system.

Generally, guidelines determine sentences based on two things:

  • The conduct associated with the offense (offense level): There are 43 different offense levels under federal law. Your offense level is determined by the offense with which you are charged and by applying certain adjustments, if necessary.
  • Your criminal history (criminal history category): The law recognizes six criminal history categories, each with a range of criminal history points. Categories vary depending the amount of time you served in the past. They take into account prison time, as well as probation, parole, supervised release, work release or escape status.

By weighing these two factors, courts decide whether you fit into one of four sentencing zones. Depending on your own history and the charges you face, you may be in Zone A, B, C or D. Zone A carries the lightest sentence, while Zone D carries the heaviest.

The law says that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are to be treated as “advisory,” meaning that the court is not bound to follow the guidelines exactly. If it is appropriate, the judge may depart from the guidelines after a conviction.

In your sentencing hearing, the judge will generally review the guidelines to determine your guideline range. The judge will then determine if you should be sentenced below, at or above the guidelines range. Because federal sentencing guidelines are advisory, it is critical to have an experienced attorney fighting for you in your sentencing hearing. Your lawyer can help the judge understand why a sentence reduction may be necessary in your case.

Contact a Colorado Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer

My name is David Lindsey. At my Denver, Colorado, law firm, I use over 30 years of experience to fight hard for you. I handle some of the most serious state and federal criminal defense cases that it is possible to face. My clients have been accused of crimes, including drug crimes, fraud, computer crimes, sex crimes and violent crimes. Some even face the death penalty.

If you or someone you love faces serious charges, contact me for help at (303) 228-2270. Consultations are free and confidential, and I encourage you to call as soon as possible. Calls are generally forwarded to my cell phone so that people who need me can talk to a lawyer right away. Messages left will be returned as soon as possible, including evening and weekends, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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