Safety Valve

Codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), this provision allows the court to sentence a defendant without regard to an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for certain types of drug-trafficking offenses if the defendant satisfies the five criteria in the statute. A corresponding guidelines provision is USSG §5C1.2. In addition, §2D1.1(b)(17) provides for a 2-level decrease in the offense level for defendants who satisfy the safety valve criteria, regardless whether they are subject to a mandatory minimum.

Sentencing Commission

An independent agency in the judicial branch of government created by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Congress enacted the SRA in response to widespread disparity in federal sentencing, ushering in a new era of federal sentencing through the creation of the Commission and the promulgation of federal sentencing guidelines. Several states also have sentencing commissions that promulgate sentencing guidelines that apply to their state’s criminal offenses.

Sentencing Options

The choices that the court has once the court has properly determined the defendant’s sentencing range in the Sentencing Table. Depending on the Zone on the table in which a defendant’s range falls, sentencing options include probation (with or without a condition of home detention or community confinement), a split sentence, or a term of imprisonment. The Guidelines Manual addresses sentencing options at Chapter Five, Part F.

Sentencing Procedures

The procedural rules governing sentencing hearings and preparation leading up to it. Rules are found in the Guidelines Manual at Chapter Six. Sentencing procedures are also governed by statute and at Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.

Sentencing Table

The table displays imprisonment ranges, stated in months, that apply to a case after the court as determined the offense severity level and the criminal history category of the defendant. The table is found at Chapter Five, Part A of the Guidelines Manual.

Serious Drug Offense

As defined at 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), an offense under the Controlled Substances Act and related federal statutes, or an offense under State law punishable by at least 10 years in prison, involving manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance.

Shepard Documents

The narrow class of additional documents the court is permitted to consult when using the modified categorical approach to determine the elements of the prior conviction.


Email or other internet mass marketing conduct used to contact a large number of potential victims.

Spear Phishing

A more focused type of phishing that targets smaller groups of victims ranging from a department within a company or organization to a single individual.

Special Assessment

Special payments required by statute. A special assessment is required by statute for each count of conviction. One such statute is 18 U.S.C. § 3013.

Specific Offense Characteristic

Aggravating or mitigating factors in the guidelines in Chapter Two that, provided the court finds by a preponderance of evidence that they exist, either increase or decrease the offense severity level.

Split Sentence

A sentence of imprisonment that includes a term of supervised release with a condition of community confinement or home detention as a substitute for a portion of the guideline minimum (§5C1.1(c)(2), (d)(2)). Split sentences are sentencing options in Zones B and C of the Sentencing Table.


Altering the header of an email so that it appears to come from a legitimate or reputable source. A hacker might alter his or her email header so it appears to come from the victim’s bank. Internet Protocol (IP) spoofing is the computer version in which a packet is sent to a computer with the IP altered to imitate a trusted host in the hope that the packet will be accepted and allow the sender access to the target machine.


A type of malware that is programmed to hide on a target computer or server and send back information to the master server. Data sought by spyware often include login and password credentials, bank account information, and credit card numbers.


Imposing consecutive sentences for multiple counts of conviction.

Statement of Reasons (“SOR”)

A form issued by the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts (Form AO245(b)), which is generally filed under seal, in which the federal defendant receives a sentence for a felony or Class A misdemeanor offense. The form contains various check boxes and spaces for judges to explain the reasons for imposing the sentence in the case. The Sentencing Commission collects this form as one of five sentencing documents that courts must send at the close of the case. See also 28 U.S.C. § 994(2)(1)(B) (requiring the Chief Judge to submit the form to the Commission, along with other sentencing documents, within 30 days of entry of the judgment).

Supervised Release

A period of court supervision that often follows an offender’s service of a federal prison sentence. The primary purpose of supervised release is not to punish, but instead to facilitate the defendant’s reentry into the community. The court sets conditions of supervised release at the time of sentencing but may modify them later, or in the case of a violation, may revoke a defendant’s term of supervised release and return the defendant to prison to serve additional time.


Monitoring of an offender by a pretrial services officer or probation officer, whether while awaiting trial or sentencing, or after serving a prison sentence. An offender on probation or parole is also under supervision. Violation of the conditions of supervision can lead to a revocation of the supervision and incarceration of the offender.

Supervising Officer

An officer of the court responsible for monitoring an offender or an accused person’s behavior, generally for a set period of time. In the federal system, the supervision officer is a pretrial services officer or probation officer.

Substantial Assistance

The act of assisting the government in its investigation and/or prosecution of another individual or an organization. The government has the option of filing a motion for a reduced sentence if it finds the defendant substantially assisted the government. A federal statute, 18 U.S.C. §3553(e), provides that a court may sentence a defendant below a mandatory minimum based on a defendant’s substantial assistance, and USSG §5K1.1 provides that a court may sentence below the minimum of the guideline range based on a defendant’s substantial assistance even if no statutory mandatory minimum applies. Both the statute and guideline require the government to file a motion requesting a downward departure before a court may depart.