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How are the levels of federal offenses calculated?

If you are charged with a federal offense, you need to take the situation very seriously. Federal crimes typically come with stricter, harsher and lengthier penalties thanks to Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines establish minimum sentencing requirements based on the level of offense a person is charged with. The higher the level is, the lengthier the sentence can be.

One thing you need to understand is how the level of an offense is determined. Generally speaking, there are three different elements to assigning the level.

  1. The base offense: This is the starting point for figuring out the final offense level. Every type of criminal offense has a level from 1-43. Less serious offenses like trespassing are given lower levels; more serious offenses like murder are given higher levels. 
  2. Specific offense characteristics: There are elements of the specific offense that impact the severity of the crime. For instance, the use of a gun will add points to a robbery offense.
  3. Adjustments: Adjustments are factors that apply to any type of criminal activity, including a person's conduct surrounding an offense. If someone is very involved in a crime and then intimidates a witness, he or she would face a higher level offense than someone who was marginally involved in a crime and is not accused of obstructing justice.

Once all these factors are taken into consideration, an offense level is calculated. This level and the person's criminal history (which must also be calculated and categorized) are then checked against the federal Sentencing Table and the mandatory minimum ranges can be identified.

What all this means is that every detail of an alleged crime will be critical. A single adjustment or specific offense characteristic can make the difference between a mandatory minimum of 0-6 months in prison and several years in prison.

Because of this, it can be crucial that you work with a defense attorney who understands the importance of challenging an offense level and can fight for reduced or dismissed federal charges and penalties.

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