Trials can take place in either federal or state court. If a criminal case is in federal court and the defendant is found guilty, the judge will pass a sentence. This punishment is determined in large part by what is known as Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Federal sentencing guidelines offer a recommended range for sentencing. This sentence can consist of jail time, a fine, or both. The guidelines take two things into consideration: the seriousness of the crime, and the defendant’s prior criminal history. Based on these factors, a minimum and maximum imprisonment and fine are recommended.
For example, the recommended sentence for someone with no criminal history who is convicted of a bank robbery (without use of a weapon) is 33 – 41 months in prison and/or a fine of $7,500 – $75,000.
Both the defendant and the prosecution can argue that these guidelines should be ignored. Lawyers often present reasons why the judge should pass a greater or lesser sentence. However, in most cases judges will choose a sentence which falls within the federal sentencing guidelines recommendations.