New US Sentencing Commission Data Shows Interesting Trends

New US Sentencing Commission Data: 3rd Qtr. 2011

Just released from the US Sentencing Commission is their quarterly report containing a considerable amount of data concerning the October – June months of sentencing in United States courts. Below is a short, and by no means total, breakdown of some of the interesting data points.

Sentences Inside and Outside the Guidelines

  • Only 1.8% of cases went above the guidelines range;
  • 43.9% of all sentences were below guidelines range; ((Interpolated from 1.8% above range plus 54.3% below (56.1% subtracted from 100%))
  • 61% of all below-guidelines sentences were initiated by the prosecuting US Attorneys; ((26.8% of all sentences were government sponsored, below guidelines sentences where a vast majority were §5K1.1 or §5K3.1 motions))

Now we’ll look at crimes by category:

  • The most cases sentenced were immigration cases: 21,415 or 35.2% of all cases during this time period;
  • Drug offenses, not surprisingly, were the second-most cases: 18,371 or 30.2%; ((Trafficking, Communication Facility, Simple Possession))
  • Fraud (5,351) and Firearms (5,726) charges came in a close 3rd/4th: together accounting for another 18.2%;
  • Together these crime categories make up 83% of all sentenced defendants in the first three quarters of 2011;

Best and Worst


Being a defendant in some circuits is better than others. For instance the 1st, 3rd, and 11th Circuits have ruled that the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 applies to cases that were pending, but not yet sentenced, at the time of the law’s enactment. ((August 3, 2010)) Below is a breakdown of the most favorable and least favorable circuits to federal defendants, by the numbers.

  • A defendant is most likely to get a within-guidelines sentence within the 5th Circuit: 70.7% of all cases within that circuit are within range;
  • A defendant is most likely to get a below-guidelines sentence in the 9th Circuit, followed closely by D.C.: 61.2% and 60.1% of defendants of those circuits, respectively, were given below-guidelines sentences;
  • A defendant is most likely to get an above-guidelines sentence in the 7th Circuit: 2.3% of their cases are above range (that is 28% higher than the national average);


As with the Circuits above, the District Courts below them have an even wider variance in data. Below are some amusing numbers about US District Courts.

  • Where will a defendant get ratted on?
    • Most likely District: Eastern Kentucky with 37.7% of all sentences reduced for US Sentencing Commission §5K1.1 substantial assistance to the government;
    • Least likely District: Nebraska with only 2.3% of cases reduced for §5K1.1 assistance;
  • Where can you get fast track departures? ((§5k3.1 Early Disposition Programs: Upon motion of the Government, the court may depart downward not more than 4 levels pursuant to an early disposition program authorized by the Attorney General of the United States and the United States Attorney for the district in which the court resides.))
    • The 9th Circuit gave the lion’s share with 36.7% of their cases getting these reduction (constituting 81.1% of all cases getting §5K3.1 reductions nationwide) with the Districts of Arizona and Southern California leading the way;
    • The 10th Circuit (by the District Courts of New Mexico and Utah) and 5th Circuit (by the District Courts of Southern Texas), make up nearly all the rest of these reductions (11.9% of all Tenth Circuit cases and 4.3% of all 5th Circuit cases got these reductions make up 18.2% of nationwide §5K3.1 reductions)


What are the worst offenses to be charged with?

  • Manslaughter has the highest rate of above-guidelines sentences: 21.2%;
  • Murder comes in a distant second with 14.6% of sentences being above the guidelines range;

What are the “best” offenses to be charged with?

  • Antitrust had the largest percentage of below-guidelines sentences with 80%, but the sample group was only 8 cases;
  • Money Laundering came in second with 65.5% of cases receiving lower-than-guidelines sentences;
  • Third place goes to Child Pornography sentences with 61.7% of sentences going below the guidelines;


All of the data herein comes from the report from the United States Sentencing Commission as cited and linked at the top of this post. The data interpretations and opinions derived from all of this data are my own and are in no way exhaustively researched with scientific peer review. I hope you enjoyed reading the data fragments I found most entertaining! The following is a data disclaimer from the US Sentencing Commission report itself

According the US Sentencing Commission:

Users of the quarterly releases are cautioned that the quarterly data are preliminary only and subject to change as the Commission collects, analyzes, and reports on additional cases throughout the fiscal year. When data for each new quarter is made available, the Commission will update the previous preliminary quarterly totals in the most recent release until the release of the final fiscal year data in the Commission’s Sourcebook … As a result, quarterly data should not be considered final until publication of the Commission’s Annual Report and Sourcebook


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