Of the 1.9 million people currently incarcerated individuals in the United States, the majority, 55%, are in state prisons whereas just 11% are housed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. While it might seem that state prisons in Mississippi are far stricter on sentencing guidelines than their federal counterparts, the opposite is true.
The division between state and federal courts
Federal crimes are usually more serious than crimes committed on the state level. To qualify for federal jurisdiction, cases must involve crimes:
- Against the United States at large
- That break rules listed in the U.S. Constitution
- Affecting residents of two or more states and involving amounts greater than $75,000
- That involve patent, copyright, maritime law or bankruptcy, which always bypass state courts
After state courts find defendants guilty, they issue sentences. Sentencing is a relatively complex legal process by which judges seek insight from multiple sources to weigh the severity of crimes at hand. Considering the gravity of sentencing, which can potentially land convicted defendants in jail for life, judges consider numerous factors throughout the sentencing process.
Generally, judges consider the minimum and maximum punishments prescribed to the crimes committed by perpetrators, and then they determine the weight of various factors found in the case. They’ll then seek insight from community members, victims, other judges and many other individuals, groups and organizations.
Federal sentencing, on the other hand, involves just two factors. These include:
- The perpetrator’s conduct in committing offenses
- Their criminal history, including length, frequency and severity of other crimes they’ve committed
Judges of federal courts use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual to weigh the seriousness of defendants’ actions, and they assign scores to all the crimes previously committed by defendants to arrive at a total criminal history score. Judges then use sentencing tables to impartially recommend punishments to offenders.
Federal sentencing is typically associated with longer, less-forgiving punishments than sentencing in state and local courts. Ultimately, the processes federal judges use to sentence criminals help them determine impartial punishments.