State and federal sentencing guidelines

Someone facing criminal charges for a drug offense in Wisconsin may wonder how the judge determines what his or her sentence will be. 

The guidelines that the judge uses will depend on whether it is a federal or state charge. 

Federal Sentencing Guidelines 

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, federal judges must use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to inform their decisions. The Guidelines use offense levels ranging from 1 to 43, with 43 being the most serious. The Guidelines assign a base offense level, and then the judge assesses other factors to determine whether the level should increase or decrease. These include: 

  • The amount of loss 
  • Victim-related factors such as vulnerability or occupation 
  • The use of a firearm 
  • Obstruction of justice 
  • The role of the defendant in committing the crime 

If there are multiple convictions, the judge uses the most serious as the initial offense level, and then adds to it based on the seriousness of the other offenses. The judge may lower the offense by 2 levels if the defendant accepts responsibility through actions such as pleading guilty, makes restitution before the guilty verdict or admits to his or her role in committing the offense. 

Wisconsin Sentencing Guidelines 

The Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office provides Wisconsin Sentencing Guidelines as a way to determine fair and consistent sentences for state offenses. There are five sections to the Guidelines that a judge must consider. These include: 

  • The offense severity level  
  • Risk assessment  
  • Specific offense chart 
  • Adjustments to the indicated sentence 
  • The imposition of the sentence 

Like federal judges, state judges may make adjustments to the sentence based on factors such as the acceptance of responsibility, cooperation with law enforcement, payment of restitution, collateral consequences or recommendations by the defendant’s attorney.