Trends in Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Scuro, Joseph E., Jr., Law & Order
In 1984 the U.S. Congress enacted the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which created federal statutes that deal with the imposition of punishment for federal offenses. Commonly referred to as Federal Sentencing Guidelines, these statutes have resulted in the federal criminal justice system operating under a mandatory determinative sentencing policy when punishment is imposed for federal criminal offenses.
Determinative sentencing requires that a fixed, specifically defined sentence-punishment be imposed and served before a convicted criminal defendant can be released from imprisonment.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines have resulted in a nationwide uniformed and standardized procedure in federal district courts in the imposition of punishment during the sentencing phase of a federal criminal proceeding. The purpose of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is to avoid unequal and disparate sentencing and punishment to convicted offenders with similar criminal histories and who have been convicted under similar criminal offenses.
28 U.S.S. 991 specifically addressed this concern by stating that its purpose is "Avoiding unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar criminal conduct."
Legislative history of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines seems to indicate that these federal statutes resulted from a real or perceived public frustration and outrage at the federal disposition of corporate criminal defendants during the period of time prior to their enactment.
The majority of the federal criminal offenses included under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply to economic and white collar crimes and federally illegal corporate activities, but there are provisions under this federal law for application of Federal Sentencing Guidelines where the convicted criminal offender is an individual.
The calculation of a defendant's status under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines requires a four part analysis based on the provisions of the statute prior to imposition of sentence and punishment. Initially, punishment pursuant to the guidelines requires the determination of a defendant's "base offense level." For example, a defendant convicted of one criminal count of fraud is considered to be at base level Six.
After the base offense level has been determined by the federal trial court, the Sentencing Guidelines require there to be a determination by the trial court as to whether adjustments based on other circumstances related to the criminal offense are warranted. This can result in an increase in the base offense level for purposes of sentencing and punishment.
Estimated loss, impact on the victim, fraud, misrepresentations as to specific organizations such as charitable groups, banks, governmental agencies or educational associations, are a few of the factors that can be considered by the federal court before making adjustments to the base offense level for purposes of any sentencing considerations.
A base offense level can be increased, depending on relevant circumstances, from one to 20 for purposes of further and appropriate sentencing in federal criminal cases. After making a determination as to any adjustments in the base offense level, the guidelines require that the court look to matters related to the victim, motive and obstruction of justice that might exist in the case.
In addition, prior to increasing the base offense level, the federal trial court can look at whether the defendant was the organizer and leader of the criminal act, abused a position of private or public trust, or showed remorse and contrition for their actions. The guidelines also provide for decrease in the base offense level where the criminal defendant demonstrates clearly his acceptance of responsibility for his criminal actions.
Subsequent to determining any base offense level adjustments, a court is required to review the defendant's criminal history and is required to increase the base offense level where there is a record of a prior criminal conviction. …