Sex Offender Sentencing Guidelines


Sex offenses include a range of crimes from lewd acts to aggravated rape. Most sex offenses are charged and tried and offenders sentenced in state courts. Federal sex offense sentences are doled out according to federal sentencing guidelines. Anyone convicted of a sex offense in state or federal court must comply with the guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).


  • Sex offenses include rape, molestation or sexual abuse. SORNA defines sex offenses as crimes involving illegal sexual acts or sexual contact, as well as specific crimes involving minors.


  • SORNA registration guidelines are relatively new, and some discrepancies between federal and state guidelines have not yet been ironed out. For example, many states define urinating in an alley or changing clothes in public as sex offenses, yet those are not sex crimes under SORNA.

Federal Guidelines

  • Federal sex offense guidelines are found in Chapter 2 of the U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual, from Section 2A3.1 to 2A3.6. The kidnapping guidelines are found in Section 2A4.1 and 2A4.1, which are also relevant to sex crime sentencing. SORNA defines child kidnapping by a person other than a parent or guardian to constitute a sexual offense.

Sentencing Calculation

  • Federal sentencing guidelines require first determining the base offense level, which is the number of points that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has assigned to that particular crime. Then the defendant's criminal history is considered. A table in the federal guidelines then shows the recommended sentence.

Base Offense Level

  • The base offense level for an aggravated sexual assault is 38 out of a possible 43; the base offense level for most other sex offenses is 30. A series of special offense characteristics, such as the age of the victim or abduction of the victim, will add to the base offense. This means the base offense level for sex crimes assigned by the sentencing guidelines is quite high, but the actual sentence will also depend on the person's criminal history.

Registration Requirements

  • In addition to prison terms and supervised release, sex offenders must register with the National Sex Offender Registry, as well as whatever state registry is required. The U.S. Department of Justice makes information about registered sex offenders available to the public on its website.


  • State and federal governments impose harsh sentences on sex offenders and require public registration and notification that can limit convicted sex offenders' ability to get jobs and housing.


  • Photo Credit Cindy Hill
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