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Sentencing Statistics

A lot goes into criminal sentencing, which is why no one can predict the exact sentence for any individual criminal defendant if they’re found guilty. However, it is possible to get a general idea of the potential sentence range for certain crimes based on various factors. These factors include:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • Prior criminal history
  • Federal sentencing guideline recommendations
  • Mandatory minimum sentences
  • What the prosecution is seeking
  • Any extenuating, or special, circumstances

To help the public understand typical sentences for various crimes, LawInfo has compiled statistics from the United States Sentencing Commission. You can find statistics on recent sentences issued by federal courts categorized by type of crime on these pages. We’ve also provided the demographics of the defendants sentenced and explanations on how to read the data.

About the United States Sentencing Commission

Congress created the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 1984. It is an independent federal agency tasked with establishing sentencing policy and practices for all federal courts. It was created directly in response to the once wide disparity in sentencing across different federal jurisdictions. Every year, the USSC tracks and publishes information on sentences given the previous year.

Because it is an independent agency within the judicial branch, the USSC operates separately from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Justice. The USSC also reports to Congress on the data they collect.

Federal vs. State Sentences

The USSC only provides data from federal courts. However, states have their own sentencing guidelines and track sentencing independently from other states and the federal judiciary. Because states have their own guidelines and sentencing practices, the data in this section does not necessarily apply to criminal defendants prosecuted in state courts.

Which jurisdiction the case is in can be important. For example, in states without the death penalty, federal prosecutors will sometimes take up murder cases (when they have jurisdiction) to have capital punishment be a potential penalty. There may also be differences in the number of plea deals accepted, sentence length, and other disparities between federal and state courts.

How To Use These Statistics

These articles provide a broad overview of federal sentencing. While it is possible to see trends and averages, it should not be used as a template to determine any individual sentence for federal defendants. Nor should this be seen as legal advice.

If you face criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss any potential sentence.

There is a lot of information on sentencing available. The U.S. criminal justice system is the largest in the world and the correctional population in the U.S. numbers in the millions. Federal crimes can be complex, and sentencing involves numerous factors. To help people understand the raw data, LawInfo has created easy-to-understand explanations of the data so that anyone can become aware of the kinds of sentences given for certain crimes.

How We Compiled Statistics on Sentencing

In this section, you will find prison sentences and other data on various types of federal crimes. You can also read more about the demographics of the defendants sentenced. For example, here you can find information on any potential racial or ethnic disparities in sentencing. The data is also sorted according to education level, how many federal defendants pled guilty, and other relevant information.

LawInfo also offers explanations of basic concepts in criminal sentencing. These topics include alternative sentencing options, sentencing departures, and other concepts to help clarify the data and ensure federal defendants are aware of their rights.

Data Usage Disclaimer

The sentencing analysis presented on LawInfo was completed using the sentencing data compiled by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC). All data used are from federal court cases. While the data does reference certain states, that variable comes from the state in which the federal court is located, not from state courts. Data are from fiscal year 2019 unless otherwise noted.

These data are presented for informational purposes only, and they are not a guarantee of a specific outcome in any legal matter nor do they constitute legal advice. Those facing legal issues should consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine an appropriate course of action. Issues related to sentencing are extremely complex and require knowledge of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Every case is unique and every criminal defendant is sentenced according to the circumstances of their case.

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