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Federal Crimes Sentencing Guidelines from Trusted NM Defense Attorneys

Federal Crimes Sentencing Guidelines

gavel, scale, law booksIt can happen to anyone: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making a mistake, or having a momentary lapse in judgment. Just because you find yourself accused of a crime, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. With that being said, it is important to have an accurate understanding of how the United States legal system works and the sentencing guidelines related to federal crimes. In addition to speaking with your defense lawyer about sentencing related to your specific charges, you should take time to read through the United States Sentencing Commission’s official guidelines.

How the Sentencing Guidelines Work

The sentencing guidelines take into account two initial factors: the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history. For offense seriousness, there are 43 different grades, with the more serious crimes ranking higher on the scale. Each crime has a base offense level as a starting point. As mentioned, the more serious the crime, the higher the level. For example, a trespass has a base offense level of only 4, while kidnapping has one of 32. Other related factors can increase or decrease the offense level. Finally, if the judge deems the offender has accepted responsibility for his/her actions, the judge can decrease the offense level by up to two levels.


As mentioned, the court can adjust the offense level based on factors related to the case. Examples of adjustments include:

  • If the offender is deemed only a minimal participant in the offense, the offense level can decrease by four levels.
  • If the offender knew the victim was unusually vulnerable due to some existing physical or mental circumstances, the offense level increases by two levels.
  • If the offender obstructed any part of the investigation, the offense level goes up by two levels.

Criminal History

The second factor, criminal history, assigns each offender to one of six different categories. Criminal History Category I is the least serious, while Criminal History Category VI is the most serious. These guidelines are based on when previous crimes took place and how long punishments sentences were during the rehabilitation period.

The Guideline Range

Once the final offense level and criminal history categories are determined, the court then looks for the point at which the two intersect on the Commission’s sentencing table. This provides a sentencing range. After reviewing any atypical circumstances of the case, the court may choose to ‘depart’ from the guideline range or follow it. If the sentence is an upward departure, the offender is legally permitted to appeal the sentence. If the sentence is a downward departure, the government may legally appeal.

A special kind of departure is known as a “substantial assistance” departure. In this case, the offender can have his/her sentence substantially reduced if it is proven that he/she helped in the investigation or prosecution of another case. In this situation, the decision to grant a departure is decided by the judge.

Contact Our Aggressive Team If You’ve Been Accused Of a Federal Crime in New Mexico

The New Mexico Criminal Law Offices have been focused on protecting the rights of our clients since 1997. We have two attorneys committed to helping clients receive a fair voice in the court of law. If you have been recently convicted of a crime, contact us today. It would be our honor to help guide you through the legal process and we won’t rest until you are fully represented. Whether it is criminal law in the Federal Court or local Municipal Courts in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we give each client the same amount of focus and personalized attention.

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