Published on: Friday, May 25, 2018

On May 17, 2018, the United States Sentencing Commission published The Criminal History of Federal Offenders, providing for the first time information “on the number and types of offenses in the criminal histories of federal offenders sentenced in a fiscal year.”  While the Commission has long collected and reported data on criminal history points and criminal history category under the sentencing guidelines, it has not previously collected “complete information on the number of convictions or the types of offenses in the criminal histories of federal offenders until now.”  According to the Commission, new technological advances made it possible for it to collect additional details about the criminal histories for 61,946 of the 67,742 federal defenders sentenced in fiscal year 2016.  Of particular interest, the new publication shows types of prior convictions by offenders for five categories of federal offenses: (1) drug trafficking; (2) firearms; (3) fraud; (4) immigration; and (5) child pornography. 

Here are the key findings from the Commission’s study:

  • Almost three-quarters (72.8%) of federal offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2016 had been convicted of a prior offense. The average number of previous convictions was 6.1 among offenders with criminal history.
  • Public order was the most common prior offense, as 43.7 percent of offenders with prior criminal history had at least one conviction for a public order offense.
  • A conviction for a prior violent offense was almost as common as prior public order offenses, as 39.5 percent of offenders with criminal history had at least one prior violent offense. Assault was the most common violent offense (29.5%), followed by robbery (8.1%), and rape (4.4%). Just under two percent of offenders with criminal history had a prior homicide offense.
  • The nature of offenders’ criminal histories varied considerably by their federal instant offense. The substantial majority (91.7%) of firearms offenders had at least one previous conviction compared to about half of fraud (52.4%) and child pornography (48.2%) offenders. Firearms offenders were also most likely to have violence in their criminal histories, as 62.0 percent of firearms offenders with a previous conviction had a violent previous conviction. Fraud offenders were the least likely of offenders with criminal history to have a violent previous conviction (26.2%).
  • Most (86.6%) federal offenders with criminal history had convictions that were assigned criminal history points under the guidelines. Offenders who had at least one three-point conviction were the most likely of all offenders with convictions to have a murder (3.8%) or rape/sexual assault (7.0%) offense in their criminal histories.
  • A criminal history score of zero does not necessarily mean an offender had no prior criminal history. Almost one in ten offenders (9.8 percent) in fiscal year 2016 had a criminal history score of zero but had at least one prior conviction. 

The Training Division provides sentencing resources that will help you argue for the best sentence possible for your clients.