Order Code RS22105
April 5, 2005
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Sentencing Under the Federal Sentencing
Guidelines: An Abridged Terrorism Related
American Law Division
Until recently, the federal Sentencing Guidelines determined the sentences meted
out as punishment for most federal crimes. Then the Supreme Court declared that as a
matter of constitutional necessity the Guidelines must be viewed as advisory rather than
mandatory. The Guidelines remain a major consideration nevertheless. The Guidelines
system is essentially a scorecard system. The purpose of this report is to give a bare
bones description of the score-keeping process with a simple example of how it works
in a terrorism related case.
This report is an abridged version – without footnotes, appendices, and most of its
quotation marks and citations of authority – of CRS Report RL32846, How the Federal
Sentencing Guidelines Work: Two Examples.
Introduction. Congress created the United States Sentencing Commission and
authorized it to promulgate sentencing guidelines in order to eliminate and prevent
“unwarranted sentencing disparity.” The statutes that define federal crimes still identify
the maximum penalties – and in some cases the minimum sentences – that may be
assessed. The Guidelines, however, provide the standards that most often speak to how
federal criminals will be punished within those boundaries.
The Guidelines assign most federal crimes to one of forty-three “offense levels”
based on the severity of the offense. Every offender is assigned to one of six “criminal
history categories” based upon the extent of his or her past misconduct. The combination
of offense levels and criminal history categories governs the severity of the penalties
assessed under the Guidelines. This is a walk through the Guidelines using as a vehicle
a terrorism related case, with sentencing calculated according to the Guidelines’ scorekeeping procedure:
I. Find the applicable guideline which sets the base offense level for the crime(s) of
conviction (i.e., the level assigned based on the nature of the offense).
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A. Add levels to account for the presence of any aggravating factors indicated
in the guideline
B. Subtract levels to account for any mitigating factors designated in the
II. Adjust (levels added and subtracted) for:
A. Victim related
B. Role in the offense
C. Obstruction & Accepting Responsibility
D. Multiple counts
III. Find criminal history category (assign points for criminal record).
IV. Consider career offender alternative (required in some cases).
V. Consider whether departures are appropriate
VI. Determine the Guideline sentence using the sentencing table (final offense level
points/criminal history points = sentencing range).
C. Supervised release
G. Special assessments.
Biheiri was convicted of various immigration-related false statements in violation
of 18 U.S.C. 1015(a) and 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) which the government unsuccessfully
asserted had facilitated the support of overseas terrorist activity. He was sentenced to 12
months imprisonment, a fine of $15,000, a $100 special assessment, and 3 years of
Base offense level. The Statutory Index, U.S.S.G. App.A, identifies section 2L2.2 as
applicable to both the 18 U.S.C. 1015(a) and the 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) violations. Section
2L2.2 carries a base offense level of 8 with the possibility of increases for aggravating
factors apparently not implicated in Biheiri’s case. The base offense level for each
violation (18 U.S.C. 1425 and 18 U.S.C. 1015) was: 8
Adjustments - Victim-Related. The Guidelines allow for four so-called victim-related
offense level adjustments: (1) hate crimes or vulnerable victims; (2) official victims; (3)
restrained victims; and (4) terrorism. The government sought an adjustment only under
the terrorism Guideline in Biheiri. The terrorism adjustment Guideline assigns an
additional 12 offense levels “if the offense [or any related crime that constitutes relevant
conduct] is a felony that involved, or was intended to promote, a federal crime of
terrorism,” establishes a minimum offense level of 32 in such cases, and tops out the
defendant’s criminal history score at VI regardless of his or her prior criminal record. The
section has obvious application when the offender has been convicted of a federal crime
of terrorism, but it may also apply when a crime of terrorism has the necessary
relationship to the crime of conviction to qualify under the Guideline and constitute
“relevant conduct” for purposes of the Guideline. The government asserted that Biheiri
had engaged in financial transactions with a designated terrorist, who had connections to
HAMAS, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
The statute of limitations barred prosecution of the IEEPA allegations directly, but the
government asserted that IEEPA violations might be used as the basis for an adjustment
under section 3A1.4. It failed first because it could not prove that the IEEPA violations
were committed in preparation for or in any other way “relevant” to the immigration
violations that constituted the crimes of conviction and second because it failed to prove
that the IEEPA violations constituted a “federal crime of terrorism.” When a crime is
related to the obstruction of a terrorism investigation or proceeding it may also warrant
application of section 3A1.4, but the enhancement was unavailable in Biheiri because the
government could not show that the false statements obstructed its investigation. Offense
level adjustment 0 . Adjusted offense level for each violation: 8 .
Role in the Offense. There are five role-in-the-offense adjustments: (1) leadership (+4
levels for organizer or leader of a crime with 5 or more participants or that is otherwise
extensive; +3 levels for a manager or supervisor of such a crime; +2 levels for an
organizer, leader, manager or supervisor of any other criminal activity); (2) minor players
(- 4 levels for minimal participants; - 2 levels for minor participants); (3) abuse of trust
or use of a special skill (+ 2 levels); (4) a Fagan enhancement (+ 2 levels for the use of a
minor); and (5) use of body armor (+4 levels for the use of body armor during a drug
trafficking crime or a crime of violence; +2 levels for a drug trafficking or violent crime
involving the use of body armor). The Biheiri court refused to assess a 4 level role in the
offense increase under the theory that Biheiri’s activity involved the federal agencies and
employees to whom the false statements were made (thereby qualifying as the supervisor
in a crime involving 5 or more participants), but did conclude that a 2 level adjustment
was appropriate in view of Biheiri’s supervision of two other participants in his scheme.
Offense level adjustment: +2 . Adjusted offense level for each violation: 10 .
Obstruction & Accepting Responsibility. Obstruction of justice makes an increase
of 2 levels appropriate, as does reckless endangerment during flight. No question of
either obstruction of justice adjustment arose in Biheiri. The Guidelines also permit an
adjustment in cases where the defendant accepts responsibility; a decrease of 2 levels as
a general rule and a decrease of 1 level in cases otherwise carrying an offense level of 16
or more where the defendant signals his intent to plead guilty before the government has
had to invest major time and effort preparing for trial. Biheiri warranted no such
adjustments. Offense level adjustment 0 . Adjusted offense level: 10 .
D. Multiple Counts. To account the conviction of a defendant for more than one
crime without pancaking charges involving essentially the same misconduct, the
Guidelines apply a “grouping” procedure under which similar offenses are grouped
together. Once the multiple crimes for which the defendant has been convicted have been
collected in closely related groups, the offense level applicable to each group is
determined using the highest offense level attributable to the most serious crime within
the group with one exception; for the crimes whose offense levels depend upon the
amount of money stolen, or the extent of damage caused, or the amount drugs
manufactured or dealt – the amounts are cumulated. The offense level for each group
having been determined, the group with the highest offense level is assigned a “unit” as
is any group whose offense level is within 4 levels of the lead group (any group within 5
to 8 offense levels of that of the lead group is assigned a half unit; other groups are
disregarded). The offense level for the lead group is then increased by the total number
of units (add 1 level for 1.5 units; 2 levels for 2 units; 3 levels for 2.5 or 3 units; 4 levels
for 3.5 to 5 units; and 5 levels for more than 5 units). The resulting total offense level of
the lead group is the basis for the defendant’s final sentencing. Biheiri’s offenses were
grouped together. No adjustment for multiple groups was necessary and the offense levels
for the two violations were counted as one within the single group. Had the offense level
for the violation of either 18 U.S.C. 1015 or 1425 been higher, it would have been used.
Offense level adjustment 0 . Adjusted offense level: 10 .
Criminal History Category. As a general rule an offender’s criminal record
determines his or her criminal history category (for each offense level there are six
permissible sentencing subcategories arranged according to the seriousness of the
defendant’s criminal history). Points are assessed for past convictions, for misconduct
committed while under judicial supervision such as bail or parole, and for crimes of
violence. By operation of U.S.S.G. §3B1.4 a terrorism adjustment results in the
assignment to criminal history category VI, regardless of the offender’s criminal record.
There are past criminal activities which not only determine a defendant’s criminal history
category point total, but also provide the basis for increasing a defendant’s offense level,
as in the case of career criminals; professional criminals; armed career criminals; and
recidivist sex offenders. Biheiri would appear to have had little if any criminal record of
prior convictions. Adjusted offense level: 10 . Criminal history category: I .
V. Departures. In the interest of uniformity, the Guidelines seek to limit the
circumstances under which a sentence outside of the ranges otherwise called for by the
Guidelines may be recommended. The Guidelines countenance departure from the
sentence otherwise called for (1) upon the request of the government in recognition of the
defendant’s cooperation with authorities; (2) where the criminal history provisions do not
adequately reflect the seriousness of the defendant’s past criminal record; and (3) in cases
where there exists an aggravating [or, in cases other than those involving child crimes or
sex offenses, a mitigating] circumstance of a kind, or to a degree, not adequately taken
into consideration by the Sentencing Commission in formulating the Guidelines.
The government sought an upward departure in Biheiri, but the court decided that
none of the circumstances or consequences of [Biheiri’s] offenses of conviction appear
to be atypical so as to take the case out of the heartland of the applicable Guideline. Final
offense level: 10 . Criminal history category: I .
Imprisonment. The Guideline’s Sentencing Table (below) indicates that the
permissible sentencing range for offense level 10, criminal history category I is not less
than 6 nor more than 12 months imprisonment. Although the Guideline ranges must fall
within the statutory maximum and any statutory minimum for the crime of conviction,
the range in Biheiri was well within the maximum for the statutes of conviction (18
U.S.C. 1015 carries a 5 year maximum; 18 U.S.C. 1425, a 10 year maximum). Biheiri
was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
Probation & Substitute Incarceration. Probation eligibility under the Guidelines is
very limited. It extends only to defendants for whom the maximum permissible sentence
of imprisonment under the Guidelines is no more than 6 months (Zone A) or to
defendants whose maximum is no more than 1 year, if the court imposes some form of
incarceration rather than imprisonment (i.e., weekend or nighttime imprisonment, home
confinement, etc.) (Zone B). The maximum permissible term of probation for a
defendant with an offense level 6 or higher is 5 years; below offense level 6, the
maximum term of probation is 3 years. Defendants sentenced at offense level 19 or above
(Zones C and D) are ineligible for probation. With an offense level of 10, Biheiri would
have been eligible for probation coupled with some form of incarceration other than
imprisonment, but the court elected to sentence him to imprisonment at the top of the
applicable range. In cases when the offense level carries a maximum term of
imprisonment of not more than 16 months (Zone B or C), the sentencing court may
impose a term of substitute incarceration (intermittent confinement, community
confinement, or home detention). Again with an offense level of 10, the court might have
sentenced Biheiri to some form of substitute incarceration but elected not to.
Supervised Release. Unless otherwise provided by statute, defendants sentenced to
imprisonment for more than a year must also be sentenced to a term of supervised release
to be served after they leave prison. The court may impose a term of supervised release
upon defendants sentenced to imprisonment for a year or less. Maximum terms of
supervised release range from 1 to 5 years depending on the seriousness of their offense.
Biheiri was sentenced to a 3 year term of supervised release.
Restitution, Fines & Other Economic Sanctions. The court may also order
defendants to make restitution; or unless required by statute, the court may forego a
restitution order if “(A) the number of identifiable victims is so large as to make
restitution impracticable; or (B) determining complex issues of fact related to the cause
or amount of the victim’s losses would complicate or prolong the sentencing process to
a degree that the need to provide restitution to any victim is outweighed by the burden on
the sentencing process”. There was no evidence of a restitution order in Biheiri. The
Guidelines establish a fine schedule according to offense level for the crime of conviction.
The court need not impose a fine where the defendant is unable and unlikely to be able
to pay any fine imposed. If the court does not impose or waives the fine imposed, it may
impose alternative sanctions. In Biheiri’s case, the Guidelines call for a fine of not less
than $2,000 nor more than $20,000; the court imposed a fine of $15,000. In addition,
Federal courts must impose a special assessment of $100 for felony violations of federal
law and lesser amounts for misdemeanors. Biheiri was assessed a special assessment of
$100. Criminal forfeitures which become operable upon conviction for certain offenses
are announced as part of the sentencing process. There were no criminal forfeiture
provisions implicated in Biheiri. Several tax statutes and a few others authorize the court
to assess the costs of prosecution against defendants convicted of violating their
commands. The statutes under which Biheiri was convicted are not among them. Section
3555 of title 18 authorizes sentencing courts to order a defendant to pay for the cost of
victim notification up to a maximum of $20,000; the Guidelines permit the court to set
off the cost against any fine imposed. The issue does not appear to have arisen in Biheiri.
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