If you are convicted of a crime, the judge will pass a sentence for punishment.  This sentence can consist of probation, a fine, or jail time.  In many states, the type and severity of the punishment is determined in large part by what are known as sentencing guidelines.

State sentencing guidelines offer a recommended range of sentencing for each crime.  While these guidelines vary from state to state, they generally consider the 1) nature of the crime and 2) the defendant’s prior criminal history.  Based on these factors, a minimum and maximum penalty (including jail time and fine) are suggested.

The sentencing guidelines are often completely optional.  Since the judge has discretion to choose a different sentence, both parties often argue that the guidelines should not be followed.  An experienced crimimal defense attorney can therefore bring up factors that could help to lessen your sentence, such as if you were under extreme stress at the time of the crime, and counter the prosecution’s attempt to get the judge to pass a harsher sentence.