Introduction to the Revised Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics
This is the twenty-third edition of the United States Sentencing Commission’s Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. This Sourcebook contains descriptive statistics on the application of the federal sentencing guidelines and provides selected district, circuit, and national sentencing data. The volume covers fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018, hereinafter “2018”). This Sourcebook, together with the 2018 Annual Report, constitutes the annual report referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 997, as well as the analysis, recommendations, and accounting to Congress referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 994(w)(3). The Commission received documentation on 69,425 federal felony and Class A misdemeanor cases involving individual offenders in fiscal year 2018. The Commission coded and edited information from the sentencing documents in these cases into its comprehensive, computerized data collection system.
The Commission first released sentencing data in its 1988 Annual Report and reported this data annually until 1996. That year, the Commission compiled sentencing data into a new publication, the Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. Over the next two decades new tables and figures were added to the Sourcebook, but the overall structure of the book has not changed until now.
The 2018 Sourcebook reflects a year-long process to update and revise the way the Commission reports sentencing data to the public. We have endeavored to make the Sourcebook more comprehensive, more informative, and easier to use. Many of the existing tables have been revised to reflect current sentencing practices. The figures have been updated to make them easier to understand and are now presented in color in the printed Sourcebook. Some figures and tables have been removed so that the data on them can be presented in new ways. Trend analyses have also been added to the major sections so that readers can see how sentencing patterns have changed over the last ten years. Additional analyses regarding drug and immigration crimes are presented, and new sections regarding firearms and economic offenses have been added, in order to give readers more complete information about the most frequently-occurring federal crimes. The Organizational Offender section of the Sourcebook has also been expanded, giving readers more detailed information about the organizations sentenced under Chapter Eight of the Guidelines Manual and the offenses they commit. Also, Appendix B, which provides sentencing data for each judicial district has been updated to reflect current sentencing practices. Finally, many of the titles and terms used in the Sourcebook have been modified to adopt a “plain language” approach.
One major revision to the methodology used in the Sourcebook involves the way the Commission analyzes the sentence imposed relative to the sentencing range for the case as determined under the Commission’s Guidelines Manual. Beginning with this version of the Sourcebook, sentences now are grouped into two broad categories: Sentences Under the Guidelines Manual and Variances. The former category comprises all cases in which the sentence imposed was within the applicable guideline range or, if outside the range, where the court cited one or more of the departure reasons in the Guidelines Manual as a basis for the sentence. Variance cases are those in which the sentence was outside the guideline range (either above or below) and where the court did not cite any guideline reason for the sentence. Data for important subgroups within these two categories are also reported.
Other methodological changes are reflected in this version of the Sourcebook. Principal among them is the way cases are assigned to a “type of crime” (previously called offense type). Beginning with this report, the guideline (or guidelines) that the court applied in determining the sentence will determine the crime type category to which a case is assigned. Previously, the maximum penalty provided under the statute of conviction was used for this categorization. In cases where the offender was convicted of more than one offense, the Commission’s prior methodology occasionally assigned a case to an offense category that was different from the type of guideline that the court applied in determining the sentence. Beginning with fiscal year 2018 data, cases with more than one count of conviction will be assigned to the type of crime that aligns with the guideline that produced the highest sentencing range. Also, the names of some of the crime type categories have been revised and some outdated categories have been removed from the tables and figures.
Another important methodological change is that sentences are capped at 470 months for all analyses. This is consistent with the Commission’s long-standing practice of assigning a value of 470 months to any life imprisonment sentence. Now, determinate sentences of more than 470 months will not have a value greater than life imprisonment sentences.
The Drug Offenses section of the Sourcebook has been revised. Most of the analyses in that section now focus only on drug trafficking crimes. Also, data on the use of enhanced penalties in drug trafficking cases where the offender is a recidivist are included for the first time.
Finally, cases involving the production of child pornography have been assigned to the sexual abuse crime type. Previously, these cases were assigned to the child pornography offense type in the Sourcebook. This change reflects the way in which the production of child pornography is treated under the sentencing guidelines.
Because of these methodological changes, direct comparisons between data for fiscal year 2018 and later years cannot always be made to data reported in the Sourcebook for years before fiscal year 2018.
The Commission collects and analyzes data on federal sentences to support its various activities. As authorized by Congress, the Commission’s numerous research responsibilities include: (1) the establishment of a research and development program to serve as a clearinghouse and information center for the collection, preparation, and dissemination of information on federal sentencing practices; (2) the publication of data concerning the sentencing process; (3) the systematic collection and dissemination of information concerning sentences actually imposed and the relationship of such sentences to the factors set forth in section 3553(a) of title 18, United States Code; and (4) the systematic collection and dissemination of information regarding the effectiveness of sentences imposed.
The Commission maintains a comprehensive, computerized data collection system which forms the basis for its clearinghouse of federal sentencing information and which contributes to the agency’s research mission.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 994(w), the chief judge of each district is required to ensure that, within 30 days of entry of judgment in a criminal case, the sentencing court submits a report of sentence to the Commission that includes: (1) the Judgment and Commitment Order, (2) the written Statement of Reasons, (3) any plea agreement, (4) the indictment or other charging document, (5) the Presentence Report, and (6) any other information the Commission requests.
Data from these documents are extracted and coded for input into various databases. It should be noted that data collection is a dynamic rather than a static process. When research questions arise, the Commission either analyzes existing data or adds information to its data collection system.
In 2012, the Commission began making its datasets available through the Commission’s website. The Commission’s computerized datasets, without individual identifiers, are also available through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan (ICPSR).
For each case in its Offender Datafile, the Commission routinely collects case identifiers, sentencing data, demographic variables, statutory information, the complete range of court guideline decisions, and departure and variance information. Throughout 2018, the Commission continued to add data elements to its extensive computerized datafile on defendants sentenced under the guidelines. In addition to its standard data collection, the Commission often codes additional variables to study various distinct issues (e.g., drug offenses, criminal history).
The Commission’s 2018 Offender Datafile contains documentation on 69,425 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases in which an individual offender was sentenced between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018. A “case” is defined as one sentencing event for an individual defendant.
The Organizational Datafile contains documentation on organizations sentenced pursuant to Chapter Eight of the Guidelines Manual in 2018. The Commission collects available data on organizational structure, size, and economic viability; offense of conviction; mode of adjudication; sanctions imposed (including probation and court-ordered compliance and ethics programs); and application of the sentencing guidelines. The Commission received information on 99 organizations sentenced pursuant to Chapter Eight of the Guidelines Manual.
While the 2018 reporting year includes cases sentenced between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, it is important to note that the individual offender and organizational data collected and analyzed in the 2018 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics reflect cases for that fiscal year reported to the Commission (i.e., guidelines cases for which the courts forwarded appropriate documentation to the Commission) by February 25, 2019.
The Appeals Datafile tracks appellate review of sentencing decisions. Information captured in this module includes district, circuit, date of opinion, sentencing issues, and the appellate court’s disposition. The Commission also tracks final opinions and orders, both published and unpublished, in federal criminal appeals. In 2018, the Commission gathered information on 7,038 cases decided by the courts of appeal. Cases involving co-appellants are treated as separate appeals for statistical purposes.
The Commission implemented a data collection system to track resentencings and other modifications of sentence in 2008. The information collected includes judicial district, reason for resentencing, new sentence, and guideline application information, if available. Information is collected on eight types of resentencings and other modifications of sentence. In 2018, the Commission received documentation on 3,241 resentencings and other modifications of sentence.
The 2018 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, quarterly updates to federal sentencing data, and the Commission’s Interactive Sourcebook are available on the Commission’s website at https://www.ussc.gov/research.
The Commission also has an Interactive Sourcebook, in which sentencing data can be tailored to any district or group of districts, or to a circuit or group of circuits. Users can also change the fiscal year of the data presented, or group multiple years of data into one analysis. All analyses using the online tool can be saved into a .pdf format for later use or printing.
1 28 U.S.C. § 994(w); USSG §1B1.9.
2 28 U.S.C. §§ 995(a)(12) and (14) – (16).
3 The Commission’s datasets can be found at https://www.ussc.gov/research/datafiles/commission-datafiles.
4 The Consortium’s website address is https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/index.jsp.