Leo F. Fay, PhD, Associate Professor Emeritus of Sociology,
Fairfield University, Connecticut
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The Federal Sentencing Guidelines
On November 1, 1987, the present system of sentencing came into effect in all federal criminal cases. This changed the way justice operates in our courts and sociologists are still assessing the effects on our society.
Instead of the old system, where judges were given considerable latitude in determining a prisoner's sentence, within the statutory limits, the new system provides a set of sentencing guidelines that judges are required to follow.
Congress adopted this method in order to bring an end to the wide discrepancies that used to exist between the sentencing practices of the district court judges. Today, in theory, if not in practice, anyone convicted of a federal crime should receive the same sentence as anyone else with an identical prior record who commits the same crime, no matter where in the United States he is sentenced or who the judge is who sentences him.
Although judges are allowed to go above or below the guidelines in special cases, there are strict requirements that must be met before they can do so. As a result, the majority of federal court defendants are sentenced according to the guidelines, including defendants who plead guilty pursuant to a plea bargain.
Nevertheless, there are still wide disparities in the sentences given to similar defendants for similar crimes. These disparities are usually because:
(1) the defense attorney is not familiar with the guidelines or has not taken the time to study them as they apply to the specific case, or
(2) the U.S. Attorney has asked the court to sentence a defendant to less than the normal term, usually in return for cooperation.
This book is intended to give you an understanding of sentencing practices in the federal courts as they exist today, as well as other valuable information that will be very useful to lawyers practicing in the federal system and to defendants charged under federal laws.
The Guidelines as written have changed very little in the 29 years since their inception. However, on January 12, 2005, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Booker case, and that decision significantly changed the practical import of the Guidelines. The Booker decision, while allowing the Guidelines to continue as law, substantively reinterpreted the weight they have
in determining sentences. The Seventeenth Edition of Busted by The Feds explains in detail the Booker decision, its history, reasoning and practical effects.
Anyone who has seen the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual will know how huge and complex these legal guidelines are. One of the most impressive and unique aspects of Busted by The Feds is the series of more than 30 charts and tables summarizing these guidelines.
Here we have spent hundreds of hours analyzing the 600 pages of legalese in these guidelines, including every federal offense and all the latest amendments. This information has been condensed into tables like the one shown here.
Using these tables, combined with the worksheets also in the book, even a person with no legal training can determine the Guideline sentencing range for any offense. You can also calculate the whole spectrum of mitigating and aggravating factors without ever having to wade through the Guidelines Manual itself.
Armed with this information the defendant can begin to protect his rights. He and his lawyer can make informed choices while dealing with the court system and responding to offers of a plea bargain, etc.
The example shown is Chart S from page 340 of the book. It summarizes offenses involving Money Laundering and Monetary Transaction Reporting. The various offenses under this category of federal law are listed down the left and the aggravating and mitigating circumstances are across the top.
Instructions are on each chart and in this case they say "Begin with the base offense level for the crime. Add the levels shown in the chart for each applicable enhancement. The resulting total offense level should be applied to calculate sentence guidelines." In addition, all of the most important application notes for each guideline are included.
It's that easy because we have done the research for you. In the overwhelming majority of cases, you will find all the information you need to calculate your own guidelines and to protect your own rights and freedom, right here on one page in this book.