Disclaimer: This blog is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice and does not create or intend to create an attorney-client relationship. This blog post should never be used to replace the advice of your personal attorney.

The U.S needed an independent agency to operate within the judicial branch of government, which is why in 1984 the U.S. Sentencing Commission got put together by Congress as per the Sentencing Reform Act. With the U.S Sentencing Commission came the United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Why Did The U.S Need Sentencing Guidelines?

Before implementing the U.S. sentencing guidelines, there were many cases of sentencing disparities. Meaning that different offenders would receive different sentences despite the legal factors of the committed crime being similar. From the implementation of the federal sentencing guidelines, federal judges had the means to issue fair and consistent punishments while considering the actual crime and offender’s previous criminal history, instead of other non-relevant factors.

However, it is important to note that these guidelines are just that. They are a recommendation with a judge able to offer a different sentence depending on whether the punishment is harsher or more lenient than what the guidelines recommend. The judge must explain the reasoning behind their decision if this is the case.

A Brief History Of The U.S Sentencing Guidelines

Before the implementation of the U.S Sentencing Guidelines, federal criminal law gave federal judges the freedom to issue sentences as they please as long as the term was somewhere between the minimum and maximum outlined by Congress, and due to this, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 got passed. This brought the United States Sentencing Commission or USSC and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. As per rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, the guidelines could allow the government to breach the sixth amendment trial by jury.

United States V. Booker

As stated above, the U.S. sentencing guidelines went from mandatory to a recommendation. That change came about due to the United States V. Booker case in 2005. In 2003, he was arrested for possession of 92.5 grams of crack cocaine. Booker then provided a written confession, admitting to selling 566 additional grams. The jury concluded that Booker was guilty of possession with the intent to distribute 50 grams of cocaine as a minimum which came with enough points for a sentence between 10 years and a life sentence.

However, the federal court judge ruled the amount was significantly over that amount. With drug offenses, the sentence can increase per the amount of the substance. This ruling raised the points from 32 to 36. The point increase raised the possible sentence to a minimum of 30 years in prison which was the sentence that the judge settled for. Booker claimed this sentence breached the sixth amendment which gave him the right to trial by jury and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed. The court decision was appealed and a lesser sentence was issued along with a change in the sentencing policy.

How Do The U.S Sentencing Guidelines Work?

The U.S sentencing guidelines give most federal crimes an offense level with 43 different levels relating to the offense’s seriousness. Along with those levels, six criminal history categories represent the extent and recency of past committed crimes. These two categories are considered together to arrive at the final sentence calculation.

The two columns on the sentencing table meet and decide the sentence the federal judge should issue by placing the offender in a zone. There is flexibility with this zoning process, with a 25% difference between the highest and lowest sentence. There are four different zones for deciding the guideline range:

  • A has a sentencing range between 0 and 6 months.
  • B has a maximum sentence period of 15 months.
  • C has a maximum sentence period of 18 months.
  • D consists of mandatory minimum sentences above the 18 months of Zone C.

Zone D is easier to reach than many might assume. A common sentencing practice is stacking, and criminal offenses can stack with some common examples, including:

  • Obstruction of justice
  • Use of a firearm or body armor in drug crimes and violent crimes
  • Offenses against vulnerable victims
  • Offenses against government officials
  • Use of minors to carry out an offense
  • Committing an offense while on release from prison

It is, however, possible to reduce sentences by a few points. Some examples of how a point reduction can occur, include:

  • Acceptance of responsibility for the crime early, thus shortening the court proceedings,  which would otherwise waste resources.
  • Accepting a plea agreement, which can include the offender assisting in the investigation of another potential offender.
  • Refrain from continued criminal activity after a first offense.

A plea deal settles many federal cases, so reductions are relatively common, with defense attorneys often working to secure such.

What Does This Have To Do With Telemarketing?

To protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing, the TCPA or telephone consumer act got into action. Along with the TCPA, the requirement for companies to keep a list of consumers not wishing to receive sales calls arose. While the DNC lists stopped law-abiding companies from making unwanted sales calls, it did not do much to stop scammers and spammers who knew they were breaching these lists if they kept them in the first place.

The U.S Sentencing Guidelines implemented sentencing guidelines for the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to punish this breach. The act does not just cover fraud but also deceit. As per the federal sentencing guidelines manual, The base-level a violation earns the offender 6 points which come with a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum of $9,500. Additional points for different severity of the offense will add on to the recommended fine. Some modifiers, as defined by federal rules, that can increase the amount of the fine include:

  • How many people the offense affected.
  • Whether the victims were elderly or vulnerable.
  • The monetary gain for the offender.

The more recent Do Not Call list that saw implementation in 2003 is aimed more at a business that intends to play by the rules, though breaching of that list can still lead to fines of up to $40,000 per violation.