The federal sentencing guidelines intend to alleviate sentencing disparities. In reality, they are often misused to pass extreme sentences on individuals whose crimes may not justify a long prison term. While they are technically “guidelines” some judges treat them as hard and fast rules and that can work against you, especially with drug offenses.

Fortunately, case law advises against making these absolute which allows defense attorneys leeway in arguing against using the guidelines in your case. This increases the possibility of staying out of prison or avoiding an excessive term. Your best option is to hire a good federal defense attorney in Las Vegas and understand how these guidelines may affect you.

What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

The federal sentencing guidelines are a result of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. It created the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) which reviews sentencing results each year to propose amendments and address problems. This creates determined sentencing rather than open-ended sentencing where a defendant never knew what to expect at the final hearing. This effort started at the federal level and soon enough, state courts started creating their own guidelines.

The USSC presents guidelines on a table. Judges use the rows and columns to determine the “points” assigned to an offense and line them up to the recommended prison sentences. The range varies from zero to six months for serious misdemeanors to life in prison for the worst felonies.


Besides creating a structure for determining sentences, the guidelines help assess resources for the possible prison populations. Federal guidelines estimate how many may go to prison so the USSC can request funds to provide additional beds or build new structures. States may look to control prison populations by assessing other options, like treatment instead of prison for DUIs. By providing some uniformity, it is assumed it is easier to plan for the future and assure equality when issuing sentences.

Effects on Sentencing

The federal sentencing guidelines are suggestions, not mandatory rules. While they were once considered mandatory, case law deemed strict adherence to them as unconstitutional. Judges are supposed to consider specific facts of the case when deciding on a sentence and the guidelines interfere with that process. So, there is room to deviate from the guidelines if an attorney makes an effective argument and the judge agrees.

Generally, when determining the sentence and where a defendant falls on the table, judges consider:

  • Nature and circumstances of the offense;
  • Criminal history and character of the defendant;
  • Whether the sentence imposed is appropriate, meaning it reflects the seriousness of the offense, effects on the victim, and need for public protection;
  • Sentence options available; and
  • Current policy statements.

Depending on how these factors come together, a defendant may face a set range or judges may reduce or increase the recommended sentence. The extent of a physical or psychological injury, property loss, involvement of weapons or extreme conduct on the part of the defendant or victim may come into consideration when issuing a final sentence. In many ways, the attempt to make this predictable has not succeeded completely.

The problem that often arises is intimidation. Prosecutors may use the guidelines to force plea bargains. The result is more guilty pleas and fewer defendants willing to go to trial, even if they are not guilty of the charges. Heavier penalties for immigration offenses and child pornography test constitutional limits and many judges refuse to follow the guidelines on those crimes because they wish to avoid appeals. However, if a defendant does not have a sympathetic judge or a skilled defense attorney, there is a good chance that defendant will fall victim to the guidelines.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Available in Las Vegas

If you face federal charges in Las Vegas, you need an experienced defense counsel. It is possible to avoid the worst the federal guidelines have to offer but it often takes creative lawyering that is immune to prosecutorial intimidation.

You can also make informed decisions that are not based on panic if you hire a good lawyer. Defendants often accept plea bargains because they fear the worst and do not know their options. We make sure that does not happen.

When you hire Gabriel Grasso, you hire an excellent criminal defense attorney with a proven track record. We can help you around the sentencing guidelines and assure fair treatment. Contact us today for a free and confidential case review.