Sentencing Guidelines for Assault

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Assault is the threat of violence to a victim, sometimes with the use of a weapon. Because the sentences imposed can vary greatly from state to state, the government created sentencing guidelines in an attempt to make sentences for similar crimes more uniform.

The guidelines create base levels, which can be raised based on specific circumstances of each crime. The levels then translate to appropriate periods of time that the offender should serve in prison.


In criminal law, a person is guilty of assault if he threatens to use force against another and that threat puts the victim in fear that they will be harmed. If a weapon is used during the assault, putting the victim in fear of immediate serious bodily injury or death, the crime is considered aggravated assault.

Sentencing Guidelines

The federal government established sentencing guidelines to ensure more consistent sentencing for similar crimes. The guidelines are standards to aid judges in determining sentences. Judges start with a baseline sentence and the punishment can be raised or lowered based on factors, such as the offender's previous criminal history or the specific circumstances of the crime at issue.

States and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The guidelines are available to judges in all federal cases and have also been adopted by 23 states and the District of Columbia. Some of the states that have adopted the sentencing guidelines are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah, Oregon and Washington. The other states may have their own guidelines in place, while others have no such tool in place to assist their judges.

Assault Sentencing Guidelines

The federal sentencing guidelines establish the base level for assault as 4, if the crime only involved a threat, but 7 if the crime involved any physical contact or the use of a weapon. Judges can then increase the level by 2 if the victim suffered injury or 4 if the injury was severe.

If the crime is aggravated assault, the sentencing guidelines established a considerably higher base level, at 14. The judge then has the discretion to raise the level based on the specific circumstances of the offender's crime, including raising the level (a) by 2 if the crime was planned; (b) an additional 5 if a gun was fired or an additional 3 if the use any dangerous weapon was threatened; and (c) based on the degree of injury to the victim. If the victim sustained any bodily injury, the judge can raise the level by 3; if the injuries were serious, the level can be raised up to 5 and if the injury is life-threatening or has permanent results, the judge can raise the level of the sentence by 7.

Sentencing Table

Once the judge has established the final level of the sentence, a sentencing table provides the appropriate period of time the offender should serve in prison. The sentencing table can be viewed at:

The table contains a list of each level from 1 (a minimum sentence of 0 to 6 months) through 43 (the maximum sentence, life). The right side of the table contains six columns called the Criminal History Category. The first column is used when an offender has no criminal history or 1 prior offence. Each additional column contains a greater sentence based on the offender's prior criminal history: II for 2 or 3 offences, III for 4, 5 or 6 offences, IV for 7, 8, or 9 offences, V for 10, 11 or 12 offences and VI for 13 or more offences.

For example, if an offender is convicted of assault at a base level of 7 and the judge adds 4 levels because the victim suffered serious injury, the final offence level would be 11. If the offender has a prior criminal history of five offences, the judge could impose a sentence of 12 to 18 months.