Federal Sentencing: The Basics


Rule 35(b) Research Publication(Updated September 2020) This primer provides an overview of the federal sentencing system. For context, it first briefly discusses the evolution of federal sentencing during the past four decades, including the landmark passage of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA), in which Congress established a new federal sentencing system based primarily on sentencing guidelines, as well as key Supreme Court decisions concerning the guidelines. It then describes the nature of federal sentences today and the process by which such sentences are imposed. The final parts of this paper address appellate review of sentences; the revocation of offenders’ terms of probation and supervised release; the process whereby the Commission amends the guidelines; and the Commission’s collection and analysis of sentencing data.


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