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Handbook Cover for Treatise on Internet Sex Crimes

Chapter 3: Sentencing Guidelines



Federal district courts use the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines to calculate the total offense level for each defendant convicted of a crime in federal court. The total offense level corresponds with an advisory sentencing range in months (e.g., level 32 corresponds with a sentencing range of 121 to 151 months in custody). After calculating a defendant’s total offense level, a district court can give a sentence below or above the Guidelines range as long as the deviation from the Guidelines is properly explained and doesn’t run afoul of any mandatory minimums or maximums.

This calculation begins with the base offense level, which is determined by the type of offense. In sex offense cases, there are a host of adjustments, or enhancements, that may then apply. These enhancements can dramatically increase a defendant’s total offense level. This section of Johnson/Citronberg’s Handbook takes a closer look at the applicable enhancements in federal internet sex offense cases. This section also examines how a defendant’s criminal history in sex offense cases can increase the total offense level.


The base offense levels for common federal internet sex offenses are set forth below:

Level 18 (27 to 33 months): Possession of Child Pornography

Level 22 (41 to 51 months): Receipt or Distribution of Child Pornography

Level 32 (121 to 151 months): Production of Child Pornography, Advertisement


There are numerous potential enhancements that may apply in a federal internet sex offense case. These enhancements are found in Chapter 2 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and are based on the nature of the charged offense.

In possession, receipt, and/or distribution cases, the following adjustments may apply:

In production and advertisement cases, the following adjustments may apply:


In addition to Chapter 2 enhancements, a defendant’s criminal history may also increase the total offense level under Chapter 4 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. This section of the Guidelines is known as the “Repeat and Dangerous Sex Offender Against Minor” and there are two sub-sections in particular that counsel should be familiar with:

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