Coffee County CourthouseText Box:

Providing Quality Legal Services in Middle and Eastern Tennessee

Text Box: The United States Sentencing Guidelines’ Sentencing Table
   Posted on October 31, 2012 by John E. Nicoll

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act (“SRA”).  One of the main objectives of the SRA was to limit disparity in sentences that were occurring across the nation for similar defendants who committed similar crimes. For instance, prior to the SRA, a defendant in a federal court in Tennessee may have been sentenced to twenty years confinement while a defendant sentenced in a federal court in California for the exact same offense may have received probation. To ameliorate this problem, the United States Congress created the United States Sentencing Commission (“USSC”) and tasked it with creating sentencing guidelines that could then be used by all federal district courts when imposing sentences.

Thus was born the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the Guideline’s Sentencing Table.  The Sentencing Table was relatively straightforward based upon the two characteristics that the Commission determined were the most relevant for sentencing: (1) the severity of the crime committed and (2) the criminal history of the defendant.   The Commission assigned a numerical value from one to forty-three for each crime with higher numbers representing more serious crimes.  The Commission then created six criminal history categories, with Criminal History Category I representing offenders with little or no criminal history and Criminal History Category VI representing offenders with lengthy and serious criminal histories.   The Commission determined that the recommended period of incarceration should increase in a step-like fashion for each higher offense level and for each higher criminal history category.

Although the United States Sentencing Guidelines have been amended numerous times since its first publication in 1987, the structure of the sentencing table has remained relatively unchanged.  The offense level is on the left side of the table and the severity of the offenses are listed from top to bottom on the page. The offense level for each federal crime can be determined by referring to Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the U.S.S.G.  Meanwhile, the criminal history is at the top of table and is listed in severity from left to right. The criminal history categories can be determined by referring to Chapter 5 of the U.S.S.G.  Below is a copy of the sentencing table that is currently in effect.

Once the Court determines the correct offense level and criminal history, ascertaining the recommended offense level is quite easy. For instance, if a particular crime is assigned an offense level of 24 and the defendant is in Criminal History Category III, then the federal court needs only to find the intersection of offense level 24 and Criminal History Category III on the table.  In that case, the recommended  punishment would be 63 to 78 months imprisonment.


There are four zones on the table: A, B, C, and D.  The only zone in which the  Sentencing Commission does not necessitate some period of imprisonment is Zone A.  If the recommended guideline sentence falls within Zone B or C of the table, then the Commission authorizes some alternatives to confinement such as home confinement or community corrections after the service of some period of confinement.  For guideline sentences falling within Zone D of the table, the Commission recommends sentences of imprisonment.

The Nicoll Law Firm, PLLC is located in Manchester, Tennessee and services clients in middle and eastern Tennessee. 


Attorney Advertising.  This web site is designed for general information only.  The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney/client relationship.

TELEPHONE: (931) 409-2977