Find the right lawyer now

History of Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Find a Local Criminal Defense Lawyer near You

If someone is convicted of a crime in federal court, the judge will determine what the sentence will be.  This sentence can consist of jail time, a fine, or both.

Originally, federal judges had complete discretion about the sentence to be imposed.  However, this led to different judges passing very different sentences for very similar crimes.  As a result, many people began to push for consistency in sentencing. 

In response, Congress passed the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987.  These guidelines consider the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history.  A sentencing range is recommended in light of these factors.  It became mandatory for judges to pass a sentence that fell within this range.

Federal sentencing guidelines solved the problem of inconsistent sentencing.  However, many people felt that they were too inflexible.  Despite this, the guidelines were mandatory for nearly two decades.  However, in a landmark decision in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that mandatory sentencing guidelines were unconstitutional. 

Since then, judges have been allowed flexibility when considering sentencing.  However, while federal judges will sometimes pass a sentence that is harsher or more lenient than the recommended sentence, most still follow the recommended guidelines. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-22-2018 06:39 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.