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An Introduction to the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Part II

Article by Vicki Koutsogiannis

What is the "Base Level" that Applies to Each Offense?

As mentioned previously in the last article, in calculating a sentence, several aggravating or mitigating factors may apply to increase or decrease a sentence range. As a starting point, there is a "base" from which each offense is measured. You then use this base level when applying other criteria, such as aggravating or mitigating factors, or specific offense characteristics, which can also play a role in altering the base level of the offense. To find the base level, simply look up a specific offense under the Guidelines Manual. For example, if you are looking up "First Degree Murder," it is listed under Chapter Two, Part A, 1. Homicide. Once you select the specific offense for first degree murder, the Guidelines tell you what the base level is at the top of the screen. For this offense, the base level is 43. Note that the base level will be higher depending on the severity of the offense. For instance, "Second Degree Murder" has a base level of 38, and so on.

Calculating a sentencing range under the Federal Guidelines is a complicated task, and only an attorney with experience in federal cases can accurately determine what the range will likely be in your individual case. Although this introductory article covers some of the essential components, it is by all means not an exhaustive explanation, and you should seek the advice of an attorney to assist you in assessing your case and the likely outcome of your sentence.

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