Federal Sentencing Guidelines – The Six Criminal History Categories

The U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines recognize six categories of criminal history. These categories use a point system to help judges locate a recommended sentence on the U.S. Federal Sentencing Table.

The categories are as follows:

• Category I: 0 or 1 points • Category II: 2 or 3 points • Category III: 4 through 6 points • Category IV: 7 through 9 points • Category V: 10 through 12 points • Category VI: 13+ points
Irrespective of the offense in question – or the adjustments in base offense level that a judge may choose to make – the criminal history can be critical. Consider, for instance, the recommended sentence for a level 32 offense, such as kidnapping, abduction, and unlawful restraint. According to the table, recommended sentences range hugely across the criminal history categories:

Recommended Sentences for 32 Offense Level Based on Criminal History
• Category I: 121 to 151 months • Category II: 135 to 168 months • Category III: 151 to 188 months • Category IV: 168 to 210 months • Category V: 188 to 235 months • Category VI: 210 to 262 months
Compare, for a minute, the maximum sentence for a Class I offender and a Class VI offender. 151 months versus 262 months. That’s a difference of 111 months — nearly 10 years! – just based on the criminal history of the defendant.

Understanding Your Criminal History Categorization
If you or a loved one stands accused of a federal crime, your attorney will need a deep and broad understanding of how the guidelines work. Inappropriate classification could cost you months or years of prison time as well as reduce your probation possibilities. So many factors go into each sentencing decision. Even judges get confused about the rules and exceptions to the rules. This might explain why federal appellate courts see almost a thousand different cases every year.

Remember, the Criminal History Category is simply one of many “moving parts” that can influence sentencing. These “moving parts” include the base offense level for the crime, adjustments to this base level, and the judge’s discretion.

To develop an effective response to a federal criminal charge, connect with an experienced and reputable federal criminal defense attorney today.