The federal sentencing guidelines are a set of rules that establish a uniform sentencing policy for defendants convicted of serious federal criminal offenses, based on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. The sentencing guidelines are not mandatory, but judges are required to take them into consideration when determining the appropriate sentence for a defendant convicted in federal court. Any time a judge departs from the sentencing guidelines, he or she must explain what factors warranted an increase or decrease in the defendant’s sentence.