Andrea Wilson

Publication Date


Document Type

Survey Article


In 1984, Congress mandated the creation of the United States Sentencing Commission composed of presidential appointees to create guidelines for a comprehensive sentencing scheme. As a result, the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G.") have been in effect since November 1, 1987, and apply to all federal criminal offenses committed since that date.

In principle, guideline sentencing should be simple. Courts should arrive at a sentencing range using calculations that first consider the criminal conduct being sentenced and then the criminal history of the offender. In practice, however, the guidelines are difficult to understand, impossible to apply evenhandedly, and frequently difficult to predict. Hundreds of changes have added to the confusion. As a result, sentencing guidelines appeals now comprise the bulk of the caseload of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The offense conduct side of the equation considers the defendant's actual criminal conduct along with adjustments based upon the defendant's role in the offense, acceptance of responsibility, and obstruction of justice. The most complicated concept is the consideration of conduct which is outside the charged offense, but still factored as "relevant conduct." Despite several overhauls, U.S.S.G. section 1B1. is still impossible to apply consistently.