Relative Severity of Federal Crimes

Additional background for the SOLR report, Sex Crime Sentencing

The US federal courts use a comprehensive set of rules, called sentencing guidelines, to promote uniformity in the sentences imposed by different judges. The following table provides a side-by-side comparison of the guidelines for a selection of crimes. This allows a ready measure of the deemed relative severity of the given crimes in the eyes of the federal government.

The table below provides a side-by-side comparison of US federal sentencing guidelines for a selection of crimes. The table shows that:

  • Any actual or intended sex act with a child under 12, with consent, is an offense level 38, equivalent for sentencing purposes to murder, kidnapping for ransom, or selling 30 tons of marijuana.
  • Taking a picture of a 16- or 17-year-old boy with an erection is an offense level 32, equivalent for sentencing purposes to kidnapping or to selling a ton of marijuana, and five levels worse than attempted murder.
  • Possessing any child pornography is an offense level 18, equivalent for sentencing purposes to reckless manslaughter, which means killing someone accidentally, and one level worse than injuring someone with a deadly weapon.

For more detailed comparison of how the federal sentencing guidelines treat physical assault of and sexual activity with a juvenile, see the primary report, Sex Crime Sentencing.

This is a wide table in order to allow it to show a lot of information side-by-side. You may wish to expand your browser window to full-screen in order to see as much information as possible. If the table is still wider than your browser window, then please scroll the table to the right and left in order to see all the columns.

US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Selected Offenses
Offense LevelGuideline Sentence
(no criminal record)
§2A1§2A2§2A3§2A4§2D1§2G1§2G2§2G3§2H4Guideline Sentence
(no criminal record)
Offense Level
HomicideAssaultSexual ActivityKidnappingDrug TraffickingProhibited Sexual ConductChild PornObscenitySlavery
ConsensualForcedHeroinCocaineMarijuanaOther Factors
[§2D1.1(a)(3), (c)]
43Life Premeditated murder [§2A1.1(a)]         Causing death, w prior criminal record [§2D1.1(a)(1)]      Life43
4230 yr - Life                30 yr - Life42
4127-34 yr                27-34 yr41
4024-30 yr                24-30 yr40
3922-27 yr                22-27 yr39
3820-24 yr Murder [§2A1.2(a)]   Actual or intended sex act w under-12 [§2A3.1(a)(1)] Forced sex act w under-16 and 4 yrs younger [§2A3.1(a)(1)] Kidnapping for ransom or w sexual exploitation [§2A4.1(b)(1), (b)(5)] 30 kg 150 kg 30,000 kg Causing death [§2D1.1(a)(2)]   Sell or buy minor for use in porn [§2G2.3]    20-24 yr38
3718-22 yr                18-22 yr37
3616-20 yr      Kidnapping w permanent injury [§2A4.1(b)(2)(A)] 10 kg 50 kg 10,000 kg   Commercial sex w under-12 [§2G1.3(b)(5)] Make porn w under-12 [§2G2.1(b)(1)(A)]    16-20 yr36
3514-18 yr             Child exploitation enterprise (undefined) [§2G2.6]    14-18 yr35
3413-16 yr     Forced sexual act [§2A3.1(b)(1)] Kidnapping w serious injury or w deadly weapon or for > 30 dys [§2A4.1(b)(2)(B), (b)(3), (b)(4)(A)] 3 kg 15 kg 3,000 kg   Commercial sex by force or w under-14 [§2G1.1(a)(1), 2G1.3(a)(1)] Make porn w under-16 or make child porn w sex act [§2G2.1(b)(1)(B), (b)(2)(A)]    13-16 yr34
3311-14 yr Conspiracy or solicitation to commit murder [§2A1.5(a)] Attempted premeditated murder [§2A2.1(a)(1)]              11-14 yr33
3210-13 yr      Kidnapping [§2A4.1(a)] 1 kg 5 kg 1,000 kg   Noncommercial sex w under-12 [§2G1.3(b)(5)] Make child porn [§2G2.1(a)]    10-13 yr32
319-11 yr                9-11 yr31
308-10 yr     “Criminal sexual abuse” [§2A3.1(a)(2)]   700 gm 3.5 kg 700 kg   Commercial sex w under-18 [§2G1.3(a)(2)]     8-10 yr30
297-9 yr Voluntary manslaughter [§2A1.3(a)]               7-9 yr29
287-8 yr       400 gm 2 kg 400 kg       7-8 yr28
276-7 yr   Attempted murder [§2A2.1(a)(2)]              6-7 yr27
265-7 yr    Overseas, or travel for, sex w under-18 [§2G1.3(a)(4), (b)(4)]    100 gm 500 gm 100 kg       5-7 yr26
255-6 yr                5-6 yr25
2451-63 mo       80 gm 400 gm 80 kg   Prohibited sexual conduct w minor [§2G1.3(a)(4)]     51-63 mo24
2346-57 mo                46-57 mo23
2241-51 mo Vehicular manslaughter [§2A1.4(a)(2)(B)]      60 gm 300 gm 60 kg    Possess child porn, 300 images or showing violence [§2G2.2(a)(1), (b)(4), (b)(7)(C)]   Slavery [§2H4.1(a)(1)] 41-51 mo22
2137-46 mo   Weapon assault w permanent injury [§2A2.2(b)(3)(C)]              37-46 mo21
2033-41 mo    Sex act w under-16, > 4 yrs younger, arranged by computer [§2A3.2(b)(3)] “Abusive sexual contact” by force [§2A3.4(a)(1)]   40 gm 200 gm 40 kg    Possess prepubescent child porn [§2G2.2(a)(1), (b)(2)]    33-41 mo20
1930-37 mo   Weapon assault w serious injury or w gun shot [§2A2.2(b)(3)(B), (b)(2)(A)]              30-37 mo19
1827-33 mo Reckless manslaughter [§2A1.4(a)(2)(A)]   Sex act w under-16, > 4 yrs younger [§2A3.2]    20 gm 100 gm 20 kg   Commercial sex by fraud [§2G1.1(b)(1)] Possess child porn [§2G2.2(a)(1)]    27-33 mo18
1724-30 mo   Weapon assault w injury [§2A2.2(b)(3)(A)]              24-30 mo17
1621-27 mo     “Abusive sexual contact” by threat or w someone incapacitated [§2A3.4(a)(2)]   10 gm 50 gm 10 kg       21-27 mo16
1518-24 mo                18-24 mo15
1415-21 mo   Assault w deadly weapon [§2A2.2(a)]     5 gm 25 gm 5 kg   Prohibited sexual conduct [§2G1.1(a)(2)]     15-21 mo14
1312-18 mo                12-18 mo13
1210-16 mo Negligent manslaughter [§2A1.4(a)(1)]   Touch genitals of 16-, 17-yo [§2A3.4(a)(3)] Touch genitals [§2A3.4(a)(3)]   < 5 gm < 25 gm 2.5 kg     Obscene broadcast [§2G3.2]   10-16 mo12
118-14 mo                8-14 mo11
106-12 mo         1 kg     Transfer obscene matter [§2G3.1]   6-12 mo10
94-10 mo                4-10 mo9
80-6 mo         250 gm       0-6 mo8
70-6 mo   Assault w physical contact or w threat of deadly weapon [§2A2.3(a)(1)]              0-6 mo7
60-6 mo         < 250 gm       0-6 mo6
50-6 mo                0-6 mo5
40-6 mo   Minor assault [§2A2.3(a)(2)]              0-6 mo4
Offense LevelGuideline Sentence
(no criminal record)
§2A1§2A2§2A3§2A4§2D1§2G1§2G2§2G3§2H4Guideline Sentence
(no criminal record)
Offense Level
HomicideAssaultSexual ActivityKidnappingDrug TraffickingProhibited Sexual ConductChild PornObscenitySlavery
ConsensualForcedHeroinCocaineMarijuanaOther Factors
[§2D1.1(a)(3), (c)]
Source: Guidelines Manual (), United States Sentencing Commission, September 18, 2007, Chapter 2, Offense Conduct, and Chapter 5A, Sentencing Table

  • The Sentencing Table gives guideline sentences in months. These have been rounded here to the nearest years for offense levels 25 and higher.
  • The guideline sentences shown above are those for a defendant with no criminal record. The Sentencing Table provides for progressively longer guideline sentences for greater criminal history.
  • The offense level shown in this table for a crime is either the base offense level or an adjusted level based on specific crime characteristics, as indicated, in either case for a single count of the crime. Adjusted offense levels are highly approximate. The actual offense level applicable to a particular crime depends on a large number of factors, including circumstances of the crime, victim(s), defendant’s role, defendant’s obstruction of justice, multiple counts, and defendant’s acceptance of responsibility. (See §1B1.1, Application Instructions.)
  • The guideline sentences shown are periods of imprisonment, which represent one potential aspect of sentencing. Complete sentencing may include some combination of probation, imprisonment, supervision conditions, fines, and restitution. (See §1B1.1, Application Instructions.)
  • Terminology used in this table may be verbatim from the Manual, or it may be paraphrased for brevity. As such, this table is an interpretation of the Manual, not an authoritative representation of it.


Page posted on January 10, 2008, updated January 28, 2009.
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