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When a federal judge presides over a case involving firearms, they are required by law to take federal sentencing guidelines into consideration. The U.S. sentencing guidelines for firearms offenses are created by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which studies crime statistics and data. These guidelines are used by federal judges to help them assign sentences that are fair and just.

How the Guidelines are Used

There are two categories of information that judges use to determine a sentence: the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. To determine how serious a firearms offense is, judges use the federal sentencing guidelines to rank the offense on a scale of 43 levels of severity.

For example, a robbery charge has a basic offense level of 20. This offense level can be increased if the convicted person used a firearm during the robbery. If the firearm was shown but not fired, the offense level can increase by five points to an overall offense level of 25.

Offense Level Adjustments

The United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines allow a judge to increase or decrease the offense level in a firearms case. This means that the judge, in effect, can issue a sentence that is more or less severe based on the new offense level. There are three categories of offense level changes: victim-related changes, the offender’s role and obstruction of justice. A few examples include:

  • An increase of two offense levels if the person committing a firearms crime intentionally impeded law enforcement from conducting their duties.
  • A decrease of four offense levels if the person was only minimally involved in their participation with the crime.
  • An increase of two offense levels if the convicted person knowingly targeted someone because of that person’s unusual vulnerability. This vulnerability could be due to age or mental disability.

The second category of the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines for firearms cases considers the offender’s criminal history and ranks them on a six-level scale. First-time offenders are usually ranked at Category I, while offenders with long and serious criminal histories may be placed at Category VI.

A firearms defense attorney can attempt to secure a less severe verdict in a few different ways. They can appeal to the judge for a lighter sentence if their client is a first-time offender. They can also arrange a plea bargain that allows for a lesser sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. In many cases, a firearms defense attorney can try to take prison time off of a sentence or attempt to get their client probation rather than incarceration.

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