Navigating The Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Understanding the Federal Sentencing Guidelines:

How much time am I getting?”

How are the feds coming up with this amount of jail time?”

What are criminal history categories?”

If you have been convicted of a federal crime, these are the questions you may be asking yourself when trying to figure out what kind of a prison sentence you’re facing. In every federal criminal case, a convicted defendant will face the Federal Sentencing Table to determine how much time they will serve for their crimes. However, unlike state sentencing regulations, the Federal Sentencing Table is extremely complicated to understand and very difficult to navigate without the help of an attorney.

Introduction: The Federal Sentencing Table

The Federal Sentencing Table is a numerical chart that provides ranges of recommended prison time for any given federal offense. However, before a defendant looks at the table, they must first determine their offense level to use the table accurately. In any federal criminal case, a defendant will have an offense level calculated by the US Crimes and Criminal Procedure Handbook, which determines what crime corresponds with the proper offense level. For example, John Smith is found guilty of smuggling cocaine into the United States and is subsequently given a base offense

level of 28. From there, Mr. Smith can start to look at the Federal Sentencing Table to estimate what kind of time he is looking at.

Complexity of the Guidelines

While it could be easy to assume that Mr. Smith could look at the Federal Sentencing Table, go to level 28, and instantly see what amount of time he is getting, unfortunately, it is not that simple. There are dozens of factors that come into play regarding the table and a defendant’s sentencing hearing itself that could INCREASE or DECREASE Mr. Smith’s determined sentence, including but not limited to: criminal history category, mitigating or aggravating circumstances, acceptance of responsibility, and more.

Complex Example

Mr. Smith could have guessed that he would be serving 78-97 months on a category 1 history. However, he forgot that he was penalized with a gang enhancement which yields a plus 2 to his sentence. Further, he did not consider his prior history category is actually a category 3. So Mr. Smith’s actual sentence is between 121-151 months, almost double of what his first guess was! With so many various complexities that alter a defendant’s offense level in every federal criminal case, the Federal Sentencing Table becomes immeasurably difficult to navigate and understand without the consultation of an attorney.

How an Experienced Attorney can Help

Having an experienced federal criminal attorney in your federal case is absolutely crucial to reducing your sentence against government prosecutors. An experienced federal attorney can assist you to understand the Federal Sentencing Table and work relentlessly at your sentencing hearing to get you as little time as possible. She can inform you of what factors in your case are causing your sentence to go up, and what she is going to argue in front of the court to get your sentence to come down, lower than you ever thought possible. Most importantly, she will explain to you the critical mitigating factors that YOU are entitled to, which will lower your offense level by at least 4 points! Without the help of an experienced federal criminal attorney, a defendant will go to a sentencing hearing blind and not understand why they are serving a despicable amount of time and be locked away for longer than they should have.


Karren Kenney is the founding attorney of Kenney Legal Defense Corporation who has been practicing law for over 20 years and has tried over 70 jury trials. She completely understands the Federal Sentencing Table and how to get YOU the least amount of time possible in any federal criminal case.  If YOU or someone you know needs help in fighting ANY federal crime, contact Ms. Kenney personally at (855) 505-5588 or at to defend your case today!

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