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17 January 2010

The Sentencing Commission

via Prison Talk by rellzwife2 on 1/16/10

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE
UNITED STATES SENTENCING COMMISSION

The sentencing guidelines provide federal judges clear direction for sentencing defendants in their courts. The guidelines take into account the seriousness of the criminal behavior and the defendant’s criminal record.
In determining the severity of an offense, the guidelines use the defendant’s crime of conviction as a starting point. Certain crimes are considered more serious than others. The guidelines also take into account other factors of seriousness as they make distinctions within each type of crime. For example, the guidelines distinguish between a bank robbery in which a gun was fired at a victim and one in which a gun was merely possessed, under the theory that a robber who uses a gun should receive a stiffer sentence than one who merely possesses a gun. Similarly, an embezzlement of $100 is treated less severely than an embezzlement of $30,000.
The defendant’s past criminal record also affects the sentencing ranges. First-time offenders receive lower sentences than offenders with lengthy criminal records. Once the nature of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history have been examined, the judge uses a table to determine the range of allowable sentences. The judge must sentence the defendant within the range unless there are unusual circumstances the guidelines have not considered.
(The U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual and other Commission publications and information are available on the Commission’s Internet site at www.ussc.gov.)
The Sentencing Commission’s Role

Disparity in sentencing, certainty of punishment, and crime control have long been issues for Congress, the criminal justice community, and the public. Under the old law, federal judges were not required to use the same sentencing standards. They could impose a sentence that ranged anywhere from probation to the maximum penalty for the offense.
In 1984, after more than a decade of debate, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act to achieve greater fairness and certainty of punishment, and to target certain offenders (e.g., white collar and violent, repeat offenders) for more serious penalties.
Duties of the Commission

The Sentencing Reform Act created the United States Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency in the judicial branch of government. The Commission’s duties include developing guidelines for sentencing in federal courts; collecting data about crime and sentencing; and serving as a resource to Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary on crime and sentencing policy.
The sentencing guidelines went into effect on November 1, 1987, and have increased uniformity and fairness in federal sentencing. They provide judges with a set of rules to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.
The Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Reform Act also abolished federal parole and limited to 54 days a year the credits inmates could earn for good behavior. “Truth in sentencing” is a term often applied to a system in which the sentence imposed is the sentence served. During the guidelines’ first ten years, federal judges sentenced nearly 300,000 defendants using these new rules.
The Work of the Commission

Although the guidelines are now firmly in place, the mission of the U.S. Sentencing Com mission continues. Each year, the agency collects a vast amount of federal sentencing data. The Commission also studies various crime and sentencing issues such as the public’s view of crime seriousness. Further, it reviews and refines the guidelines in light of decisions from courts of appeals, sentencing-related research, congressional action, and input from the criminal justice community. In addition, it trains thousands of criminal justice professionals in the use of the guidelines and serves as a clearinghouse of crime and sentencing information for Congress, the Executive Branch, the Judiciary, criminal justice professionals, and the public. The Commission publishes numerous reports each year, all of which are posted on its Internet home page.
Commission Members and Staff

The Sentencing Commission consists of seven voting members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. No more than three of the commissioners may be federal judges and no more than four may belong to the same political party. In addition, the Attorney General is an ex-officio member of the Commission, as is the Chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission.
The Commission staff includes attorneys, researchers, data technicians, administrative support personnel, and training, public information, and congressional specialists.
What are some major criminal offenses that are typically sentenced in federal courts?

--drug trafficking offenses
--fraud offenses
--immigration offenses
--bank robberies
United States Sentencing Commission


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