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August 1, 2011

Seeking reviews for apps/programs that help calculate federal guideline ranges

This new Forbes blog entry, headlined "How Much Prison Time? -- There’s an App For That," has me wondering about whether federal practitioners use and benefit from any programs that help guestimate guideline sentencing ranges. Here is a snippet from the Forbes posting on this topic:

The federal U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines calculator was developed by an innovative lawyer who was looking to develop a tool to help lawyers do the calculation for their clients. The calculator covers crimes ranging from Alien Smuggling to Wire Fraud. I told the developer, who wished to not be named here, that he needed to add “Securities Fraud”, which was missing from the menu, to the selection of crimes as it has become more popular. He told me that a good substitute for Securities Fraud was to use Wire Fraud in the calculation….good to know. Besides being available on line, there is a mobile version of the prison calculator that is easier to see on your smart phone, www.sentencing.us/m. I am sure this version could be helpful in case you’re on the run and need to find out what enhancement (more months in prison) there might be for being a fugitive.

The developer cautions that this is a professional tool, though it is available to anyone. It is meant to be used by lawyers or professionals as an estimating tool.   Again, it is only a guide.  After all, the judge can sentence someone outside the guidelines.

Once on the site and you determine that you might be looking at some serious time, there is a link to connect you with a lawyer.   You just click on a state and get information that can put you in touch with a defense counsel.   No running around and going through the embarrassment of asking people, “I have a friend who needs a lawyer, you know one?”   You can do all this in the privacy of your home.  Technology is a wonderful thing.

I agree, of course, that technology is a wonderful thing, but I have not tried this particular guideline calculator nor tried to do guideline math with the help of a computer program.  But I suspect others have, and I would be grateful to get some recommendations or reviews in the comments.

August 1, 2011 at 11:20 AM | Permalink


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Used to be a program called Sentence Master, www.sentencemaster.com, but went out of biz.

Posted by: anon | Aug 1, 2011 11:35:45 AM

That site is run by a Main Justice attorney in the Computer Crim. Section.

Posted by: lawdevil | Aug 1, 2011 12:49:21 PM

Is it really so hard to do a guidelines calculation that you need an app? Wouldn't the app have to be almost exactly as complicated as the guidelines? If that's the case, how are you saving time or energy compared to using the book, except that you're substituting a developer's understanding of the guidelines for your own?

Posted by: Matt Kaiser | Aug 1, 2011 3:25:59 PM

I see no reason why this couldn't be done, but its usefulness to practitioners is practically nil. If one is familiar enough with the facts of the case and with the guidelines to understand which adjustments are going to apply, then the program isn't necessary. As Matt pointed out, it's not that hard to do the calculation. The problem is understanding the adjustments, being meticulous enough to read the commentary, and recognizing where all the pitfalls lie.

Posted by: C.A. | Aug 1, 2011 11:19:47 PM

Although it's kind of nifty, I don't think the calculator is that valuable. Also, I just ran one of my cases through it and learned that the 2010 crack guideline adjustments aren't included in the program. So, my client's base offense level was two points higher than it should have been based on her possession of 114 grams of crack.

Posted by: Dave Thomas | Aug 2, 2011 11:23:03 AM

Guideline calculations are not hard, but they can be very detailed and maddeningly cross- or self-referential. I think a tool like this, if well-maintained and up-to-date, could be useful, especially for CJA panelists who are new to the guidelines. Obviously, something like this should be used as a self-check, not a replacement for one's own analysis and reasoning. A tool like this can't subpoena prison or probation or court records for you, which is something I find that panel lawyers do far too infrequently, leading to nasty surprises once PSRs come out, particularly vis-a-vis criminal history and recidivist enhancements. But if a tool like this reminds lawyers to take that step, I think it's got value.

Also, I've run a number of scenarios through this particular calculator and the two most important deficiencies I've encountered are that 1) the guidelines are out of date (and it's not possible to choose which guidelines manual to apply), and 2) there is a bug when calculating drug+gun charges for a career offender facing a 924(c) charge.

Posted by: FPD | Aug 2, 2011 11:56:44 AM

Wait for the habeas motion because his attorney didn't have this app, making the attorney ineffective.

Posted by: Bill B. | Aug 5, 2011 5:22:20 PM

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