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Determining mandatory minimum and federal sentencing

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2021 | Drug Crimes

Minimum sentencing on the federal level consists of automatic terms for specific crimes. These conditions are not set by the courts, but by Congress. The federal guidelines for minimum sentencing apply across the United States, including to crimes in Texas.


Possibly the most prominent crimes subject to automatic minimum sentences are drug offenses. However, the regulations also apply to a series of pornography, gun and economic offenses. On the state level, judges use federal guidelines to determine the sentence. However, they also take the circumstances of each case into account.


Because each case is unique, the federal court doesn’t simply apply the same sentence to similar crimes. Factors like the offender’s role in the crime, the presence of obstruction of justice or if there is a victim can decrease or increase sentencing levels. Some examples of this in action include:

• If an offender played a small role, a judge may decrease the severity of the sentence.
• An offender who knew the victim was vulnerable because of age, physical or mental condition may result in an increased sentence level.
• A charge of obstruction of justice can increase the sentence’s length.

Because multiple elements come into play, the court may make multiple adjustments to the sentence before finalizing it.

Adjustments for responsibility

The circumstances of the offense are not the only things that can impact sentencing levels. Another major factor is the attitude of the defendant, including whether they accept responsibility or not. Some actions that may influence the judge’s decision include:

• The defendant truthfully admits to their role in the offense.
• The offender made or made plans to make restitution for their role in the offense.
• The offender pleads guilty.


Offenders get assigned to a criminal history category based on past misconduct. The chosen category can impact sentencing. It starts with Category I for mostly first-timers. The top category is VI and comprises serious offenders. You must have a strong federal criminal defense to navigate these obstacles.

While Texas may use federal guidelines to come up with a sentence, they may not use the guidelines the same way that other states do. If you’re uncertain of your path forward, contact an attorney.