The criminal justice system assigns federal felony offenses classes A through E and increases the recommended sentence with the increasing severity of the crime committed. Judges use the recommended sentences under each class and the offender's criminal history to sentence offenders. States use the same classification but varying sentence ranges, according to Attorneys.com.
Both state and federal felony offenses carry a minimum prison sentence of one year. The least serious federal felonies, which are categorized under class E, carry maximum prison terms of three years. Class D, C and B felonies are more serious than class E felonies and attract prison sentences of six to 25 years. Class A felonies, which are the most severe, attract sentences of any period. These sentences may include life without parole or, depending on the state, the death penalty, claims Attorneys.com.
Judges typically use sentencing tables, the federal guidelines manual and the criminal history of defendants to pass sentences. Criminal history considerations mean that for the commission of the same crime, first-time offenders get lighter sentences than career criminals. However, judges are free to issue sentences that fall outside the recommended sentence range based on the particulars of each case. If the defendant committed the crime under duress or assisted in the arrest of additional perpetrators, for example, he may get a lighter sentence, states Attorneys.com.