ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ABOUT DEFENDING YOUR CASE IN FEDERAL COURT:
THE SENTENCING GUIDELINES CHART AND HOW IT WORKS:
All Federal sentences are calculated using the following "Sentencing Guidelines " chart. The numbers down the left side of the chart correspond with offense levels and the numbers across the top correspond with criminal history. The number ranges in the middle of the chart are months in jail to which a defendant can be sentenced at any given offense level and criminal history category.
To find an applicable range of punishment on this chart, you need to go down the left side until you find the offense level for which you are being charged and then go across from left to right on that line until you get to the criminal history that accurately represents your history. The row and column you land on is the applicable range in which you can be sentenced. For example, the more serious an offense, the further down the sentencing guidelines chart you go. The more serious your criminal history the further right you move in the columns.
To use a drug case as an example, a given amount of narcotics might place a defendant at level 32 and if that defendant has never been arrested before he would be in criminal history category I.This would yield an applicable sentence of 121-151 months in federal prison. For the same offense level but with a defendant who has been arrested several times before and is in Criminal History Category IV, that same amount of narcotics would yield an applicable sentencing range of 168-210 months in federal prison.
This however is a relatively simple example. There are dozens of things that affect the final sentencing range within the guidelines; and the handbook that most probation officers and lawyers use to calculate the applicable range is close to a thousand pages.