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December 14, 2020

US Sentencing Commission issues big new report on "The Influence of the Guidelines on Federal Sentencing: Federal Sentencing Outcomes, 2005–2017"

I am pleased to see that the United States Sentencing Commission is continuing to release notable data reports despite being an incomplete agency due to the absence of confirmed commissioners for years.  Today brings this notable new publication, clocking in at nearly 100 pages, titled "The Influence of the Guidelines on Federal Sentencing: Federal Sentencing Outcomes, 2005–2017."  Here is this reports "Key Findings": 

In this report, the Commission analyzes the difference between average guideline minimums and average sentences imposed.  These differences, measured in a raw number of months and average percentage difference, are analyzed for all cases in the aggregate and selected individual guidelines across three time periods between 2005 and 2017: the Booker, Gall, and Post-Report Periods.  While the extent of those differences vary depending on the individual guideline, the Commission found several overarching trends indicating that the guidelines generally continue to have a substantial influence on sentences imposed after Booker.

  • In the wake of Booker and Gall and continuing into the Post-Report Period, the difference between the average guideline minimum and average sentence imposed widened for the federal caseload overall, indicating that the influence of the guidelines generally decreased after Booker rendered them advisory.  However, this trend has not continued in the most recent years of the Post-Report Period, suggesting that the influence of the guidelines may have stabilized.

  • The influence of the guidelines continued to vary substantially depending on the type of offense throughout the Post-Report Period.  As indicated by the difference between the average guideline minimum and average sentence imposed, the guidelines continued to exert a strong influence on sentences imposed in firearms and illegal reentry offenses, a more moderate influence on sentences imposed in fraud and drug offenses, and a weakening influence in non-production child pornography offenses and career offender cases.

  • Major amendments by the Commission to the drug trafficking and illegal reentry guidelines appear to have strengthened their influence during the most recent years of the Post-Report Period.  The difference between the average guideline minimum and average sentence imposed for these two guidelines narrowed after the Commission reduced the Drug Quantity Table by two offense levels in 2014 and comprehensively revised the illegal reentry guideline in 2016.

  • The guidelines generally exert a greater influence on sentences imposed in cases in which judicial discretion could be meaningfully assessed.  Excluding cases in which judicial discretion could not be meaningfully assessed narrowed the difference between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence imposed for the federal caseload overall, and for all but one individual offense type studied, across every time period studied.  This narrowing was largely attributable to the exclusion of cases with substantial assistance departures, which resulted in an average sentence reduction of 51.8 percent.  Sentence reductions for substantial assistance require a government motion and afford substantial weight to the government’s evaluation.

In short form, and at the risk of being too flip or summary about these findings, I take this all to mean that the USSC has through its data analysis found: (a) federal judges generally follow the less-crazy-severe guidelines somewhat more than the more-crazy-severe guidelines, AND (b) when the USSC finally gets around to amending the guidelines to make some of the more-crazy-severe guidelines a bit less crazy-severe, judges are inclined to follow those guidelines a bit more.  Oh, and (c) we really have no clear idea what the heck may be going on when prosecutors exercise their discretionary sentencing powers through substantial assistance departures (since, I assume, the DOJ shares no information with the USSC about the decision-making of federal prosecutors).

December 14, 2020 at 01:03 PM | Permalink


Thanks Doug for the update on the Federal Guidelines. As usual, your website is a terrific asset to those interested in the criminal justice system and reform.



Posted by: Bill Kelly | Dec 15, 2020 8:43:29 AM

Thanks, Bill, kind words are always appreciated (and energizing).

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 15, 2020 8:58:14 AM

You need to review one judge in particular in the Northeren district court of Ft.Worth Texas. His name is John "hang them high"Mcbryde then rewrite your article. This judge has overstepped his authority ,and made a mockery of sentencing people. He has jailed lawyers for the defense so they take the time they are given one womans accuser retracted her written statement and the woman is still doing 400 months even after she admitted she lied . Contact Inmate options LLC on youtube. Maybe you will get a real interesting story

Posted by: AnnTraganos student | Dec 15, 2020 10:47:19 AM

I agree with Doug, when it comes to McBryde. There was an example on the front page, https://dfw.cbslocal.com/2020/12/18/harrison-county-drug-dealer-big-ron-sentenced-to-14-years-for-methamphetamine-trafficking/, This offender was caught doing transactions and actual evidence and received 14 years from Judge Gilstrap in Texas. My loved one, no transactions, just statements by a friend, for a deal of a lower sentence and she received 16 years under Mcbryde. This is a travesty and there are 100's more. Sentenced with no actual evidence. McBryde doesn't care if you don't have evidence or someone recants. He gets off on taking people's lives by sentencing them to decades.

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 18, 2020 5:02:04 PM

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