United States Sentencing Guidelines: thirty years of influence

Since 1991, the United States Sentencing Commission has been publishing a set of guidelines for sentencing a legal entity in the United States, known as the “Sentencing Guidelines”. Although the main purpose of these guidelines is to unify the criteria used by courts and other prosecuting bodies when sentencing legal entities for crimes and other offenses committed within them, the great influence that these guidelines have had (and continue to have) in shaping Compliance systems cannot be overlooked.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the publication of the Sentencing Guidelines, last August the United States Sentencing Commission published a document compiling the main milestones and evolution during these thirty years, under the title “The Organizational Sentencing Guidelines: Thirty Years of Innovation and Influence”.

This document is of great interest to observe the evolution of penalties of legal entities, as well as the implementation of Compliance systems within them. It is configured as a kind of memory in which different aspects of criminality in legal entities and issues related to the adoption and configuration of Compliance systems during these thirty years are collected and analysed.

For example, it includes data such as (i) the most common crimes and offenses; (ii) the percentage of sanctioned entities that had Compliance systems in place at the time of committing the offense and its evolution over the years; (iii) business sectors with the highest volume of convicted entities; (iv) size of the most convicted entities; (v) number of convicted entities in each year, among many others.

In this regard, it is interesting to highlight that, according to the conclusions gathered by the United States Sentencing Commission, more than seventy percent (70%) of the companies sanctioned between 1992 and 2021 had less than fifty (50) employees; that the main crimes were fraud, environmental crimes and anti-competitive practices; and that the most affected sectors were the manufacturing industry, the pharmaceutical/health sector and retail sales.

Therefore, its reading is highly recommended, as it provides very interesting information that allows to put into perspective the evolution of the commission of crimes by legal entities and Compliance systems. The entire document is available here.


Compliance Department of Molins Defensa Penal.


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