Here is a photo of one of the bookshelves of my Atlanta officer where I handle lots of federal criminal cases. IMG_0658 If you look closely you will see row after row of Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manuals, stretching from the current version back to the slim original 1987 Guidelines. I just got done ordering the newest version. Each year, like clockwork, the United States Sentencing Commission issues a new and amended version of the Guidelines. Each year, this annual version comes into effect on November 1. Just like the New Year celebrations make people take stock and consider their lives, the yearly issue of the Sentencing Guidelines caused me to reflect on this three-decade experiment in using “Guidelines” to impose a federal criminal sentence. I will write several posts about the Guidelines, their changes, and how all of this impacts lawyers and clients involved in a federal criminal case.
Let’s start by discussing the increased complexity of the Sentencing Guidelines. My original 1987 version was a slim 557-paged tome, while the most recent version is a two-volume set that exceeds 2100 pages total. One reason that the materials are more lengthy is that every year, the Sentencing Commission also publishes all the earlier amendments as part of the current year’s issue.
Many lawyers do not appreciate the importance of having all of the earlier amendments. I like to keep all of my old books just so that I can trace back the lineage of the current Guideline and its predecessors. Sometimes, researching the Guidelines is a bit of an archeological expedition, with the attorney peeling back layers of history in order to figure out the reasoning behind the current version of a particular rule.