Introduction to the Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics
This is the twenty-fifth 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 2020 (October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, hereinafter “2020”). This Sourcebook, together with the 2020 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 64,565 federal felony and Class A misdemeanor cases involving individual offenders in fiscal year 2020. 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. In 2019, the Sourcebook edition reporting fiscal year 2018 data was substantially revised and expanded. Existing tables were revised to reflect current sentencing practices. Many figures were updated to make them easier to understand and were presented in color while others were removed and the data on them presented in new ways. Additional analyses regarding drug and immigration crimes were added, and new sections on firearms and economic offenses were included. Trend analyses were added to each of the major sections to show how sentencing patterns had changed over the last ten years. The Organizational Offender section of the Sourcebook was also expanded. Finally, Appendix B, which provides sentencing data for each judicial district, was completely redesigned to reflect current sentencing practices.
Beginning with that 2018 Sourcebook, important methodological changes were made in the way the data was presented. Principal among them was the way cases were assigned to a “type of crime” (previously called offense type). Beginning with fiscal year 2018 data, the guideline (or guidelines) that the court applied in determining the sentence determines the crime type category to which a case is assigned. Also, the names of some of the crime type categories were revised and some outdated categories were removed from the tables and figures. Another important methodological change was that sentences were capped at 470 months for all analyses. Additionally, cases involving the production of child pornography were reassigned to the sexual abuse crime type. Previously, these cases were assigned to the child pornography offense type in the Sourcebook.
Finally, beginning with the 2018 Sourcebook, the methodology used to analyze the sentence imposed relative to the sentencing range for the case as determined under the Commission’s Guidelines Manual was substantially revised. 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.
Because of these methodological changes, direct comparisons between data for Sourcebooks from 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 analyzes its existing data or, when necessary, adds information to its data collection system.
In 2012, the Commission began making its datafiles available through the Commission’s website. The Commission’s computerized datafiles, 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. In addition to its standard data collection, the Commission often codes additional variables to study various distinct issues (e.g., type of conduct in fraud offenses, criminal history).
The Commission’s 2020 Offender Datafile contains documentation on 64,565 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases in which an individual offender was sentenced between October 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020. A “case” is defined as one sentencing event for an individual offender.
The Organizational Datafile contains documentation on organizations sentenced pursuant to Chapter Eight of the Guidelines Manual in fiscal year 2020. 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 94 organizations sentenced pursuant to Chapter Eight of the Guidelines Manual in fiscal year 2020.
While the 2020 reporting year includes cases sentenced between October 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020, it is important to note that the individual offender and organizational data collected and analyzed in the 2020 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 18, 2021.
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 2020, the Commission gathered information on 6,916 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 2020, the Commission received documentation on 5,756 resentencings and other modifications of sentence.
The 2020 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, quarterly updates to federal sentencing data, and analyses of annual data in each federal judicial district, circuit, and state are available on the Commission’s website at https://www.ussc.gov/research.
Additional information on Commission data can also be found using the Commission’s Interactive Data Analyzer (IDA). IDA is an online tool that can be used to explore, filter, customize, and visualize federal sentencing data. IDA presents annual data that is stored in a secure data warehouse and refreshed periodically with the latest information collected, received, and edited by the Commission. IDA offers prebuilt data dashboards for the four most common crime types in the federal caseload and for other common areas of interest. You can navigate to these sections using the main menu. If you're looking for more granular data, use the filtering menu along the left side of any page. You can select data by fiscal years, jurisdictions, offender characteristics, or other variables. Filtering options will vary based on the topics you choose.
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.