The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are non-binding rules that set out a uniform sentencing policy for defendants convicted in the United States federal court system that became effective in 1987. The Guidelines provide for “very precise calibration of sentences, depending upon a number of factors. These factors relate both to the subjective guilt of the defendant and to the harm caused by his facts.” Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 820 (1991).
The Guidelines are not mandatory, because they may result in a sentence based on facts not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 20 (2005). However, judges must consider them when determining a criminal defendant's sentence. When a judge determines within his or her discretion to depart from the Guidelines, the judge must explain what factors warranted the increased or decreased sentence.When a Court of Appeals reviews a sentence imposed through a proper application the Guidelines, it may presume the sentence is reasonable. Rita v. United States, 127 S.Ct. 2456 (2007).