Deconstructing the Guidelines is a special project undertaken by National Federal Defender Sentencing Resource Counsel.

The papers in this section critically examine the history and basis of the most frequently encountered provisions of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Judges are now invited to consider arguments that the guideline itself fails properly to reflect SS 3553(a) considerations, reflects an unsound judgment, does not treat defendant characteristics in the proper way, or that a different sentence is appropriate regardless. Rita v. United States , 127 S. Ct. 2456, 2465, 2468 (2007). Judges "may vary [from Guidelines ranges] based solely on policy considerations, including disagreements with the Guidelines," Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 558, 570 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), and when they do, the courts of appeals may not "grant greater fact finding leeway to [the Commission] than to [the] district judge." Rita , 127 S. Ct. at 2463. Whatever respect a guideline may deserve depends on whether the Commission acted in "the exercise of its characteristic institutional role." Kimbrough, 128 S. Ct. at 575. This role has two basic components: (1) reliance on empirical evidence of pre-guidelines sentencing practice, and (2) review and revision in light of judicial decisions, sentencing data, and comments from participants and experts in the field. Rita, 127 S. Ct. at 2464-65. "Notably, not all of the Guidelines are tied to this empirical evidence." Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586, 594 n.2 (2007). When a guideline is not the product of "empirical data and national experience," it is not an abuse of discretion to conclude that it fails to achieve the SS 3553(a)'s purposes, even in "a mine-run case." Kimbrough, 128 S. Ct. at 575.

Click on the headings below to access links to documents deconstructing a particular guideline.