This is part II of a IV-part series discussing various aspects of the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

(How Are Federal Sentencing Guidelines Calculated)? (Continued)


Once the offense level is determined based upon the offense conduct, “adjustments” may be applied pursuant to Chapter 3 of the Sentencing Guidelines.  These adjustments have to do with circumstances related to the victim, the defendant’s role in the offense, obstruction related offense, whether there are multiple counts, and for the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility.

The “acceptance of responsibility” adjustment is commonly given during the sentencing of defendants who have pleaded guilty.  This adjustment reduces the overall offense level by two points.  If the overall offense level exceeds 16 points, a defendant who pleads will generally also receive an additional point reduction, leading to a total reduction of three points.

Criminal History Category

In addition to the total offense level, the defendant’s criminal history is considered in determining the Guideline range.  A defendant’s prior convictions are assigned point values, with offenses with longer sentences given more points than minor offenses.  Certain misdemeanor offenses are not counted (e.g., disorderly conduct, gambling, and prostitution).  All felony conviction are counted regardless of the length of the sentence.

The defendant’s criminal history category is based upon the number of criminal history points.  There are six criminal history categories, I-VI, the lowest category being for those defendants with 0 to 1 criminal history points, and the highest category for those defendants with 13 or more criminal history points.  

As discussed earlier in this series of posts, the Guideline range is based upon the intersection of the total offense level and the defendant’s criminal history category.  The criminal history category can have a significant impact on the Guideline range.  For example, the Guideline range for a defendant with an offense level of 23 and a criminal history category of I is 46-57 months; the same offense level with a criminal history category of VI yields a Guideline range of 92-115 months.

Go back to Part I

© 2016 David A. Nachtigall, Attorney at Law, PLLC