In this assignment, you will walk through a part of the sentence calculation process.

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In this assignment, you will walk through a part of the sentence calculation process. Write your answers on the answer sheet.

To begin, read the excerpts from Michael Mali’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSR). This will tell you

  1. The charge that Mali has pleaded to
  2. The place in the USSC guidelines manual where you can find the sentencing instructions for this charge.

Once you do that, you can start working on the sentencing recommendation.

Steps for calculating a sentencing recommendation

There are four overall steps to calculating a sentencing recommendation.

  • First, you calculate the offense level.
  • Second, you calculate the criminal history
  • Third, you use these two numbers in the sentencing table to see what the sentencing range is.
  • Fourth, you establish whether the defendant is eligible for probation.

FIRST: Calculate the offense level

  1. Referencing Mali’s PSR, use the 2013 USSC Guidelines Manual to compute the offense level. (The guidelines manual for 2013 has been archived and is available only as a pdf now, which can be found here: ( to an external site.)) under the link for “Complete Guidelines Manual”.) To do this, you take three steps:
    1. BASE OFFENSE LEVEL: Figure out what the base offense level is.
      1. Do this by looking at the appropriate section of the Guidelines manual (which can be found at the end of paragraph 2 of the PSR).
      2. Then check Chapter 2 of the guidelines manual in the section for this offense.
    2. SPECIFIC OFFENSE CHARACTERISTICS: Increase or decrease the offense level based on any relevant Specific Offense Characteristics.
      1. To do this, look through the different Specific Offense Characteristics listed for the offense (in Chapter 2, in the same section you found the base offense level). Look back at the PSR for anything that matches any of the Specific Offense Characteristics listed in the offense description.
      2. Each Specific Offense Characteristic will tell you to add or subtract some number from the offense level. So for each Specific Offense Characteristic you find, add or subtract that much.
    3. ADJUSTMENTS: Increase or decrease the offense level based on any Adjustments that are present in the offense description.
      1. To do this, look at Chapter 3 of the Guidelines manual. As you did with the Specific Offense Characteristics, look for Adjustments that could apply based on what you read in the PSR, and then add or subtract that number from the offense level.
      2. You can use any adjustment from A: Victim-Related Adjustments, B: Role in the Offense, C: Obstruction and Related Adjustments, and E: Acceptance of Responsibility. DO NOT worry about Part D: Multiple Counts.

SECOND: Calculate the criminal history number.

  1. Once you compute the final offense level, evaluate the defendant’s Criminal History Category using the criminal history provided in the PSR and Chapter 4 of the guidelines manual.
    1. The criminal history number is NOT added or subtracted from the offense level. It’s a separate number. (So now you should have 2 numbers: The final offense level and the criminal history number.)
  2. In the space provided, explain how you arrived at this Criminal History Category.

THIRD: Use these two numbers to see what the sentence range is.

  1. Then use the Sentencing Table in Chapter 5 of the guidelines manual to assess the range of months of imprisonment suggested by the guidelines.
    1. The offense level will be the row.
    2. The criminal history will be the column.
  2. In the space provided, briefly explain how you arrived at this range.

FOURTH: Establish whether the defendant is eligible for probation.

  1. Finally, indicate whether the offender is eligible for probation rather than imprisonment.
    1. To do this, read the probation guidelines, immediately after the sentencing table in Chapter 5.
    2. In the space provided, briefly explain how you arrived at your conclusion.

Once you have entered your answers on the answer sheet and come to a sentencing recommendation, upload your answer sheet to this dropbox.

Final thoughts:

Sentencing recommendations are an important function in the trial process. This role falls to probation because probation officers are tasked with learning this kind of detail about offenders and understanding how it all plays into an individual offender’s life.

Typically, the probation department would have been responsible for generating the entire PSR, including the sentencing recommendation. In this example, the PSR has already been created. You’re just calculating one component of it, based on what was written.

Sentencing recommendations are used by judges to set sentences. This means that these judges are relying on their probation officers to be thorough and pay attention to detail. You can be sure the defense and prosecution attorneys will be looking at it pretty carefully as well. It’s a big job, and it’s no fun to have a judge mad at you for messing up and making him/her look bad!

In some cases you may want to explain why you DIDN’T include something that might seem to be applicable. For example, sometimes previous convictions appear to be relevant, but when you read the fine print, you see that they only count if they are within the last 10 years. You might want to include a note on anything like this as well, when you’re doing your write up, so that the judge (and your prof) knows you spotted it, considered it, and decided against including it. 

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