Federal Sentencing Guidelines Contributing to Mass Incarceration

Defendants who are charged with a federal crime will generally be facing much harsher penalties, with lengthier jail sentences, compared with a defendant who is facing similar criminal charges on the state level.  One recent article explains how federal sentencing guidelines are tailored towards the imposition of lengthy prison sentences, and explains how federal judges contribute to mass incarceration by imposing long prison terms on defendants even when mandatory minimum sentences do not require such harsh penalties.

If you are charged with a federal crime, you need a lawyer who can provide representation and knowledgeable assistance in responding to the specific charges you face. Because most crimes are state crimes, not every defense attorney has extensive experience representing clients in federal criminal cases. LV Criminal Defense has a strong background in federal criminal cases and our legal team is uniquely qualified to offer experienced assistance.  Contact us as soon as you come under investigation for a federal criminal offense so we can begin the process of building your defense strategy.

How Federal Sentencing Guidelines Contribute to Mass Incarceration

In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and was signed into federal law by the President. This Act created a United States Sentencing Commission, which was tasked with the creation of sentencing guidelines for federal judges to follow. Judges were expected to apply the guidelines to determine penalties in almost all cases, unless there were unusual circumstances, and decisions could be reviewed by the appellate court, which further encouraged compliance.

These guidelines generally imposed lengthy prison terms for criminal sentences. There were many reasons for this. First, one issue was that the starting point baseline for determining penalties involved a consideration only of cases in which offenders had been sentenced to time in prison. This resulted in skewed data on penalties, since only 50 percent of defendants had received prison time before the Sentencing Reform Act was passed.

Another major reason why the commission’s sentencing guidelines often resulted in longer prison sentences is that the Commission for the first time decided to make quantity the key factor in imposing sentences in all drug trafficking cases. In making this choice, the Commission applied the drug weight threshold found in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to crimes that it had previously not applied to, without offering an explanation for why this was an appropriate approach to take.

The Commission also discounted directions from congress that would have resulted in softer guidelines, such as a directive stating a probationary sentences would typically be appropriate for non-violent first-time offenders who weren’t convicted of serious offenses. The Commission viewed this recommendation as a problem in the law and reclassified many offenses as “serious,” even though those particular offenses had resulted in probation only before the law changed.

Because the guidelines recommended harsher penalties and because of the pressure on judges to adhere to these guidelines, the average federal sentence went from 28 months of imprisonment to almost 50 months imprisonment after the guidelines went into effect.  The guidelines were also constructed to preclude probation in almost all cases, except when the defendant commits one of the few offenses considered a “Zone A” offense.

Defendants continue to face the potential for harsh punishment due to these guidelines, which remain in effect today even as there are ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

If you are facing federal charges, you need to be aware of the potential for a long prison term and you need to do everything possible to fight the charges and avoid conviction.  Call LV Criminal Defense to learn how our experienced legal team can provide you with the guidance and assistance you need to fight conviction as you face federal charges.