The United States Sentencing Commission is "a bipartisan, independent agency located in the judicial branch of government" responsible for helping judges and other practitioners understand how to apply the law. It releases guidelines that address a wide range of topics from "Compassionate Release" provisions to circuit court conflicts regarding peer-to-peer file sharing programs and other newer technologies.
A points-based system that combines "Criminal History Category" and "Offense Level" is used to create zones of sentencing terms that can be used as a reference in most cases, but there are some offenses that trigger minimum terms. Under these mandates, such as statute 18 USC § 1121(b)(1), Killing of a state correctional officer by an inmate, a claim of self-defense will not receive the same benefit of the court's attention as it might in cases not affected by minimum sentencing.
In this game a set of two offenses is displayed from which the player must match a given sentencing term. Correct matches may not always be intuitively drawn, as a few of the statutes, such as one involving "robbery ashore by a pirate," or those having to do with the killing of poultry inspectors, would seem to reflect outmoded safety concerns. And some of the sentences would appear to be unevenly assigned. For instance, selling 280 grams of crack receives a 20 year minimum term, five years more than selling children (18 USC § 1591(b)(1)). We may ask if society really condemns these two crimes in proportion to their mandatory sentences, or if the issues surrounding some offenses have been politicized.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' memo of May 11 orders prosecutors to seek “the most serious, readily provable offense" in criminal cases, specifying "those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences" (in direct contradiction to the Justice Department's own Principles of Federal Prosecution, which say that for drug offenses, for instance, "prosecutors should decline to charge the quantity necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence" unless there is violence or some other compelling factor associated with the offense). We are left to wonder if Sessions' policy will work to the advantage of an effective and sustainable criminal justice system, or if it is the product of a narrow perspective, dictated by motives of short-term political gain.