Federal Sentencing: Criminal History Category

Calculating Criminal History Weight

The final piece to sentencing calculations takes into consideration criminal history. Everything from misdemeanor driving crimes (like driving with a suspended license) to prior major felonies, the PSI/R considers the entirety of a defendant’s criminal history.

With no criminal history at all, zero points are assigned. Every other instance of past criminality is scored in the following categories:

  1. Juvenile Adjudication(s);
  2. Adult Criminal Conviction(s);
  3. Other Minor Conviction(s);

Then the totality of a defendant’s criminal history is scored with the points assigned by each entry in the above categories.

  • Three points are added for each prior convictions that carried an actual sentence more than 1 year and 1 day;
  • Two points are added for each prior conviction carrying an actual sentence of at least 60 days of detention;
  • One point is added for each prior sentence for a criminal conviction that didn’t qualify for the first two (e.g. criminal sentences with only probation or less than 60 days of detention);
  • Two points are added if the current charge occurred while the defendant was under any current sentence for another criminal case;
  • One point is added for each prior violent crimes that weren’t scored in the above categories (usually because they were combined sentences).

*Update: The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sessions v. Dimaya has changed what federal courts can classify as a violent crime.1

Criminal History Category

Now that we know how criminal history is scored, the second part to this calculation is what category each score falls into. There are six categories, and each one carries longer sentences than the last.

Refer back to the sentencing table found in the Guidelines Manual for a visual representation of what this category does to sentences.

  • Category I: 0-1 criminal history points. This is the lowest category;
  • Category II: 2-3 criminal history points;
  • Category III: 4-6 criminal history points;
  • Category IV: 7-9 criminal history points;
  • Category V: 10-12 criminal history points;
  • Category VI: 13 or more criminal history points;

Calculating the Final Sentence

Okay, so from the base offense level we get our starting point. Then that score is increased and decreased by the enhancement and mitigating factors we talked about in the last section. Then we get the criminal history category.

Now we have all the information that goes into the federal sentencing table (link above) that is used to figure out what sentence the Guidelines Manual recommends for a specific defendant. Looking at the sentencing table, the Offense Level is in the left hand column from top to bottom. The Criminal History Category is in the top row from left to right.

This Criminal History Category can make a big difference in sentences. A defendant with an Offense Level of 22 with no criminal history gets a recommended sentence range of 41-51 months, while a defendant with a Criminal History Category of VI gets a recommended range of more than double that: 84-105 months.

This means that doing a “deep dive” with a criminal defense attorney about each and every point scored on a PSI/R to determine Criminal History Category is vitally important. If any of these points can be successfully objected to and challenged, a defendant may save 7-19 months of their life at final sentencing.

Summary

Although this whole process can seem very complicated, it is very important to pay close attention. If a defense attorney isn’t paying close attention, MAKE THEM. From challenging the calculation of the base offense level, to challenging the applicability of enhancements, to attacking the age or application of criminal history points, each step of this process can change a sentence, and experienced eyes can make years disappear from a defendant’s sentence.

It is a documented fact that a vast majority of defendants who are charged with a crime by the federal government will be convicted and face a sentencing hearing. The days between a plea hearing (or trial) and sentencing can be the most important in a defendant’s life. Don’t skip this part!

How PCR Consultants Can Help

We are consultants and not attorneys. When an attorney is working on a case, the state Bar Association prohibits any other attorney from offering their opinion on the case. You literally cannot get a second opinion as you would if considering other life-changing decisions like major surgery.

PCR Consultants offer experienced and independent eyes that can see the case as a whole and make a difference where the most good can come of it. In this case, an analysis of sentence computations. If you’d like to talk to us more and get a totally free consultation regarding a pending sentencing hearing, give us a call or e-mail.

Phone: (480) 382-9287

Email: info@pcr-consultants.com

Or visit out Contact Us page.

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  1. Importantly, the Supreme Court decided that residual clauses of 18 U.S.C. §16 and  §924(e) are unconstitutionally vague and cannot be used to define a “Crime of Violence” because they ask judges to consider the potential of a crime to turn violent, even if no violence existed in the criminal conduct. []

Dimaya Sentence Reductions via §2255

The Sentence Reduction Potential of Dimaya and Johnson

On April 17, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States published an opinion in an immigration case called Sessions v. Dimaya. This case caused waves because the left-leaning justices split with right-leaning justices evenly at 4-4 and the deciding vote was the freshman justice Gorsuch.

In what has conservatives raging against their new justice, is really not much of an immigration issue. Well it is, because it brings some civil immigration cases into the constitutional realm of criminal cases. In this case, the question was whether or not a statute which anticipated possible/potentially violent conduct was too vague to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

No attempt is made here to take political sides or to create a partisan bias. The reason why you’re probably here reading this is to find out if Dimaya can be helpful to an inmate in federal prison. The short answer is, “Maybe.”

What did the Dimaya Case Accomplish?

You can skip this section entirely if you’re not interested in the legal analysis of this case, although it does help explain how and who this case helps.

This opinion, with dissents, is nearly 100 pages long, so there is a lot to unpack. However, the essential part that impacts federal inmates has to do with sentencing enhancements for violent crimes.

What the Dimaya case decided was that the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. §16(b) was unconstitutionally vague and violated the U.S. Constitution’s 5th Amendment, which guarantees due process.

Lets make that simpler to understand. That law above, 18 U.S.C. §16(b), is the second part of a 2-part definition of what constitutes a “Crime of Violence.” The first part says that violence has to be used, attempted, or threatened for the underlying crime to be considered a violent one.

The second part, the part we’re interested in here, says that “any other felony that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

The problem with this phrasing is that a “substantial risk” is subjective and vague. A court could assume that violence could be a result of many different types of felonies. While holding a gun, threatening to kill somebody to facilitate a robbery is certainly a crime of violence under the first definition above.

The Supreme Court decided to rely on it’s criminal definition of what makes a law unconstitutional for being too vague. The definition of a violent crime is generally made by §16, as is addressed above. Criminally, however, the definition of a crime of violence is defined in §924(e)(2).

This, by the way, is why this case caused an uproar, because it treats deportation as a punishment severe enough to cross over into criminal punishment, rather than a civil process. And treating deportation as a criminal matter gives non-citizens constitutional due process rights.

But never mind that now.

The Supreme Court decided in Sessions v. Dimaya that the residual clause of the definition of a “crime of violence” from §16 is void for being too vague, just like the residual clause of a “crime of violence” for criminal prosecution from §924(e)(2) is void for being too vague, which they had decided in 2015 with Johnson vs. United States, 576 U.S. ___, ___.

How Dimaya Could Reduce Federal Sentences

Very basically, Dimaya reinforced Johnson’s decision that the residual clauses of the definition of a “crime of violence” in both 18 U.S.C. §16(b) and §924(e) were unconstitutional because they were too vague.

What this means in terms of reducing sentences for federal inmates falls out of this. If a federal inmate had his sentence increased because their crime was a “violent” one, even if there was no violence, then the basis for that sentence increase is now considered unconstitutional.

In order to get this sentence increase eliminated, effectively getting a sentence reduction, involves filing a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence. Sometimes called a 2255,1 this allows a judge to correct a sentence for constitutional reasons (like the Dimaya decision here). However, there is a time limit.

The law that regulates the use of a 2255 motion sets a 1-year time limit on filing one. Four things can start this 1-year clock, but the relevant part here is that the Dimaya decision starts the clock for any inmate that can take advantage of it.

That means that any inmate who is affected by the Dimaya decision, meaning their sentence could potentially be decreased by using it, has until April 16, 2019 in order to file a motion to “Correct a Sentence” before they are no longer eligible to do so.

Contact Us To Find out How PCR Consultants Can Help

Find out how we can help by calling us for a free consultation at (480) 382-9287.

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  1. because the statute allowing this is found in 28 U.S.C. §2255 []