Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a tool used in every federal sentencing hearing in Federal Courthouses across the County.

Being indicted in federal court is a scary process; however, if your federal criminal case results in a plea or conviction, facing federal sentencing is even more intimidating than the federal process in general. This article was written to remove some of the unknowns of federal sentencing. In Oklahoma, federal judges and federal prosecutors have their own predispositions and nuances in sentencing of federal cases in Oklahoma. 

What role do the Federal Sentencing Guidelines play in Federal Sentencing?

The federal sentencing guidelines are a tool used in every federal court in the United States in preparation for and during the actual federal sentencing hearing. The federal sentencing guidelines were created and are used to try and create fairness in sentencing across the United States. Meaning, the goal is that two people charged with the same federal criminal offense, such as being a Prohibited Person in Possession of a Firearm, in two different federal courts, i.e. the Western District of Oklahoma or the Northern District of New York, will receive a similar federal sentence.

The federal sentencing guidelines must be calculated and considered in every federal sentencing hearing; however, they are advisory. The federal sentencing judge does not have to follow the guideline range that is calculated based on a federal defendant’s criminal history, federal offense, and federal sentencing enhancements. 

Federal sentencing judges have the discretion to decide a sentence below or above the federal sentencing guideline range in a given case, if the circumstances or facts presented by your federal criminal defense attorney warrant a departure or variance. 

Federal criminal defense attorneys and federal prosecutors make their own calculations of the federal sentencing guidelines in evaluating how a federal criminal case should be resolved. Our federal criminal defense attorneys at Cannon and Associates work with the U.S. Probation Office, responsible for sentencing calculations, to ensure we give our federal clients accurate information on where the sentencing guidelines will fall on their case.

It is important you consider the federal sentencing guidelines in your case early on, as this is a factor in accepting a plea offer from the federal prosecutor, taking your case to jury trial, or entering a plea and allowing the federal judge to decide your sentence. 

Having an accurate calculation of the sentencing guideline range applicable to your criminal history, the federal offense you are facing, and relevant enhancements, is vital in making an informed decision on fighting your case or accepting a plea bargain from the federal prosecutor that may lower your federal sentencing guideline range. 

How Long will I go to Federal Prison for my Offense?

The length of any given federal prison sentence is based on multiple factors. The reason for this is that the United States Sentencing Commission drafts/controls the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which provide federal sentencing judges with a range of punishment that is appropriate for each individual and their offense. However, many other important considerations go into determining an individual’s federal prison sentencing for their individual offense. 

This issue is the result of the struggle between fairness in federal sentencing across the nation and giving an individualized assessment of the person being sentenced in federal court. Stated another way, treat everyone fairly in federal sentencing, but consider the individual being sentenced at the same time. 

The federal sentencing guidelines are a tool for federal judges to create consistent sentencing guidelines for all federal criminal defendants in Oklahoma and across the country. The federal sentencing guidelines are focused on three considerations:

  1. The seriousness of the federal offense
  2. The Defendant’s conduct and characteristics
  3. The Defendant’s criminal history

The federal judge that is assigned your case at the time of indictment and your initial appearance in federal court has the authority to determine your specific sentence when your case is resolved, unless your federal case is dismissed or you are found not guilty at jury trial. However, the federal judge must state the basis for their findings in pronouncing a sentence above or below the federal sentencing guidelines. 

When you work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney they will be able to give you an accurate forecast of the federal judge over your case, which can give you additional insight into the federal prison sentence you will receive at sentencing, if you are convicted of a federal offense.  

What goes into the Federal Sentencing Guideline Calculation?

The base level offense and advisory federal sentencing guideline range is calculated based upon the nature and characteristic of the offense and the defendant’s history. These factors when enhancements and reductions are applied create the Advisory Sentencing Guideline Range. The sentencing range calculated on your case provides a minimum and maximum number of months in federal prison that the sentencing guidelines recommend for your circumstances and offense.

Oklahoma federal judges start with calculating the Advisory Sentencing Guideline Range and hearing arguments from the federal prosecutor and your federal criminal defense attorney in deciding the Court’s final sentencing guideline range. Once the sentencing guideline range is set at your sentencing hearing the Court will hear arguments of the parties in deciding the appropriate sentence in your case. 

Your Fierce Advocates® at Cannon and Associates work hand in hand with you throughout the process to build as strong a case as possible for a lower advisory guideline range and build an argument to support the federal sentencing judge ruling that a sentence below or at the low end of the guideline range is the right sentence for you or your loved one. 

The federal sentencing judge in your case must consider the same factors in sentencing as every other federal sentencing judge in America. The guidelines are complex; however, the following factors that assist federal judges in determining the correct sentence for each individual sentenced in federal court are rather simple. 

The federal sentencing factors to determine the specific sentence, which are separate from the sentencing guidelines to determine the Advisory Sentencing Guideline Range, are summarized at 18 U.S.C. §3553. These factors that assist the judge in deciding the specific sentence in each federal criminal case are as follows: 

  • the nature and circumstances of the offense;
  • the history and characteristics of the defendant;
  • the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense;
  • the need for the sentence to promote respect for the law;
  • the need for the sentence to provide just punishment for the offense;
  • adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
  • protecting the public from further crimes of the defendant;
  • providing the defendant with needed educational or vocational training;
  • the guideline ranges;
  • the need to avoid unwarranted sentences;
  • sentences of defendants with similar records for the same crime; and
  • the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

In summary, federal sentencing guideline calculations and the actual sentence imposed in each federal criminal case is a combination of the offense of conviction; the characteristics of the offense and defendant’s conduct; and the criminal history of the defendant. First, the federal judge will determine the Advisory Sentencing Guideline Range based on the arguments of the parties and the work leading up to the sentencing hearing. Then, the federal judge will determine the sentence in your case based on federal sentencing memorandums, the arguments and evidence presented at the federal sentencing hearing. 

What is a Federal Sentencing Memorandum?

As you can see above, the federal sentencing process is far more complex than state court sentencing. Federal criminal sentencing typically involves the writing and filing of a federal sentencing memorandum for the federal sentencing judge’s consideration weeks before the sentencing hearing. The federal sentencing memorandum is the greatest opportunity for the parties to tell a compelling story of the case or defendant to support the sentence that the parties think is most appropriate in the specific federal case.

The federal sentencing memorandums written by Your Fierce Advocates® at Cannon and Associates paint a picture of our client’s life, background, and the case as a whole in order to give the federal judge over our client’s case the best information available in order for them to sentence our client based on their life as a whole. 

Federal sentencing hearings typically last thirty minutes to an hour, during which time the federal judge will decide the advisory sentencing guideline range based on calculation of the federal sentencing guidelines, hear arguments of the parties, and pronounce the sentence. This means, your federal criminal defense attorney does not have a lot of time to advocate for your future during the hearing itself. 

Our federal criminal defense attorneys use our investigator, interviews with you and loved ones, and any other available records or information to paint a compelling story of your life applied to the sentencing factors discussed above from 18 U.S.C. §3553, which the federal judge over your case will receive and review in detail before your sentencing hearing. 

How does the Federal Judge reviewing my sentencing memorandum before sentencing help me?

The Federal Sentencing Judge over your case reviewing your sentencing memorandum before sentencing helps you in many ways. As stated above, there is very limited time during the sentencing hearing for the Federal Judge to hear your federal criminal defense attorney’s arguments on the sentencing guidelines and your sentence itself. 

However, in your federal criminal defense attorney’s sentencing memorandum on your behalf, all the best arguments for a lower sentencing guideline range and a lower sentence in your case can be made in the best format possible. Federal Judges are highly intelligent and read every brief or filing on every case before them. You can be confident when your federal criminal defense attorney files a powerful sentencing memorandum on your behalf it increases your chances of receiving a better sentence in your federal case.

What is a Federal Sentencing Departure?

Federal sentencing departures are basically what it sounds like, a departure from the sentencing guidelines. Federal Sentencing Judges must evaluate whether aggravating or mitigating circumstances exist in every case, which the sentencing guidelines do not sufficiently take into consideration. 

When the Federal Judge determining sentencing in your case finds an aggravating or mitigating circumstance exists in your case, then they can impose a sentence above or below the advisory sentencing guideline range in your case. Your federal criminal defense attorneys at Cannon and Associates are Fierce Advocates® for every client and fight to demonstrate the mitigating circumstances of your case and argue against the aggravating circumstances of your case. 

When the Federal Judge in a case determines an aggravating circumstance warrants a federal sentence above the advisory guideline range that defendant may appeal the sentence. Alternatively, and unusual to state court criminal procedure, the federal prosecutor may appeal, if the Judge applies a downward departure and enters a sentence below the guideline range. 

  • Criminal History Downward Departure: a downward departure may be granted when the Judge finds a defendant’s criminal history substantially over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal history or likelihood to commit another offense
  • Coercion or Duress Downward Departure: a downward departure may be granted when the Judge finds the defendant committed the federal offense based on coercion, blackmail, or duress.
  • Diminished Capacity Downward Departure: a downward departure may be found when the defendant has a substantial mental health issue or diminished capacity, which they suffered from at the time of the offense.
  • Voluntary Disclosure Downward Departure: in the rare circumstance that an individual turns themselves in for a federal crime a downward departure can be granted rewarding the defendant for their honesty and accountability.
  • Substantial Assistance Downward Departure: this is the most common basis for federal prosecutors to request a downward variance. Substantial Assistance occurs when a federal defendant provides information leading to the prosecution of another individual or assist in an on-going investigation. This downward departure can provide a great reward, but should be considered with caution as it can expose you to risks of implicating another individual. 

Where will I serve my Federal Sentence?

Although you may have been taken to a county jail by US Marshals after being taken into federal custody, you will not serve your federal sentence in a state facility. When or if a federal defendant is sentenced in federal court the sentence will be served in one of the many Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities across the United States. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has the authority to house a federal defendant in whatever location is convenient for their purposes. Federal prisons exist all over the country, including FCI El Reno in Oklahoma. There are roughly 150,000 federal prisoners in 127 federal prisons, 68 prison camps, and multiple private prisons across 37 states in the country.

These numbers may seem scary; however, the federal prison population is actually much lower than it was a decade ago. The majority of federal prisons in the United States are lower security that house federal defendants convicted of white collar crimes, such as mail fraud and wire fraud.

Your federal criminal defense attorney does not have the authority to determine or tell you which federal prison you will serve your time, if you are convicted in federal court. However, your federal criminal defense attorney can request the Federal Judge recommend a Bureau of Prison’s facility or prison that is convenient for you, your family to visit you, or offers services that you think would benefit you. 

What determines the Federal Prison someone serves time?

Your Fierce Advocates® at Cannon and Associates routinely request specific facilities for client’s placement based on their needs and their family. We have found that most of the time our clients end up being housed in the federal prison they request, which often puts them within driving distance of family and their home. 

After a federal defendant is sentenced the BOP begins it process for determining the facility that defendant will serve their sentence. The following is a general overview of the process for determining which federal facility a defendant will serve a federal sentence:

  1. The U.S. Court Clerk for the federal court where the judgement was entered files the Judgement Order.
  2. The U.S. Probation Office provides the Presentence Report to the U.S. Marshals Office.
  3. The Bureau of Prisons Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) performs its process for classification of the federal defendant.
  4. The Statement of Reasons (SOR) entered by the Federal Judge in your case and the Judgement Order is reviewed by the DSCC for the Bureau of Prisons to strive to impose the intention of the Federal Judge in your case.

When a federal criminal defense attorney requests a specific federal BOP facility and the Federal Judge makes a recommendation of that facility to the BOP, it is often honored. In addition to the Presentence Investigation (PSR), Statement of Reasons and the Judgement Order, the BOP Designation and Sentence Computation Center considers the following factors:

  • The Federal Defendant’s security rating / risk assessment
  • The space available in given facilities
  • Recommendation of a Facility by the Federal Sentencing Judge
  • Other administrative factors for BOP purposes

In order to make the most compelling argument for a specific facility, you need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer that knows what matters to the Federal Judge over your case and the facility designation factors for the location you hope to serve your sentence. 


At Cannon & Associates, we provide experienced federal criminal defense for those accused of federal crimes across the entire state, including the three federal district courts in Oklahoma. We understand your concerns about the federal criminal process, especially federal sentencing and federal prison, if you are unable to get your case dismissed. 

We offer free confidential case strategy sessions to answer your questions and address your concerns about any issue related to federal criminal defense.  


Experience matters when you or a loved one are facing a federal criminal indictment. It is important to know the Oklahoma federal criminal defense lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of federal criminal defense and federal sentencing guidelines. John Cannon, owner of Cannon & Associates is a former prosecutor and our team is experienced in fighting federal criminal charges. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights in federal court and fight your case. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at (405) 358-4902 for a free confidential case strategy session.