The Basics of Federal Criminal Sentencing

Federal Criminal LawyerThe Federal Sentencing Guidelines can be extremely difficult to understand. Your federal criminal lawyer is well-versed in these guidelines, however. That means that she can help you determine what your penalty under federal law may be based on the guidelines.

This will be extremely important to know in your federal criminal case, particularly as you consider whether a plea bargain is the right option for you.

Factors that the Court Will Consider

Federal courts must use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. There are some situations where deviation might be appropriate, but these occurrences are relatively rare. To start, the Court will consider the following factors:

  • Seriousness of the offense: Every offense under federal law is divided in to levels of offenses. As the seriousness increases, the offense level will also increase.
  • Base level offense: Based on the seriousness of the offense, each crime is assigned a base level. White collar crimes are often considered a base level 6 or 7.
  • Adjustments for specific offense characteristics. The base level can be increased or decreased based on certain factors of the case. For example, if a crime involved a gun, then there is a five-level increase for the crime. It will also increase more if the gun was actually shot during the commission of the crime.
  • Further adjustments for general factors. There are also additional adjustments made for general fact patterns that could apply to any type of crime. For example, if the crime included more than one victim, then there is often an increase in the base level. If the offender only played a very minor role in the commission of the crime, then that could decrease the level as well.
  • Personal adjustment factors. The base level can also be further adjusted when there are multiple convictions. The Court will use the most serious offense as a starting point and then adjust from there for the additional convictions.
  • Acceptance of responsibility. If the offender has accepted responsibility for his or her actions, then there can be a two-point reduction. This reduction is generally at the judge’s discretion in many cases.

In addition to these base points and adjustments, there is also another category for the offender’s criminal history. There are six categories of criminal history, with Category I including first-time offenders and Category VI includes offenders with extremely serious criminal records.

Departing from the Guidelines

The Court can deviate from the guidelines only when there is a strange or serious aggravating or mitigating factor in the case. The judge is required to explain in writing why he or she deviated from the guidelines in a particular case.

Federal Sentencing Guideline Example: White Collar Crime

It might be helpful to consider an example when attempting to understand the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Assume that you have been charged with fraud generally under federal law. The following analysis under the guidelines applies:

  1. Start with the base offense level. Here, the base is 6 because the statutory maximum term of imprisonment is less than 20 years for this particular crime.
  2. The crime involved $15,000 dollars, so there is an increase of 4 levels.
  3. The crime involved 12 victims, so there is an additional increase of 2 levels.
  4. The crime also involved obtaining e-mail addresses through improper means, so the penalty is increased again by 2 levels.
  5. There was an acceptance of responsibility, so the level is decreased by 2 levels.
  6. The final result is level 12, and there is no prior criminal history. Under the guidelines, then, the months of imprisonment should be between 10 and 16.

Because the guidelines are in a range, your federal criminal lawyer will argue for the lower end of the range. She will do this by citing your good citizenship in the community, family obligations, and other unique factors that show your good moral character. She may also argue for a deviation to a lower level based on certain mitigating factors in the case as well.

Consult with a Miami Federal Criminal Lawyer

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines can be confusing, but they are important to understand as you move through your case. Your federal criminal lawyer will help you understand how the guidelines will impact your case.

Author: M. G. Hansen

Marcia Giordano Hansen has been practicing law for almost 20 years. During this time, she has worked for the government at the Miami Dade Public Defender’s office representing indigent clients accused for state criminal offense; for an insurance defense firm wherein she represented doctors sued for medical malpractice and entities sued for negligence; and for a private white collar criminal defense firm practicing white collar crime defending individuals accused of social security fraud, Medicare fraud, drug trafficking and other federal crimes. Her wide range of knowledge in these different areas of law, coupled with the teachings of some of the most well respected legal minds in the country gives her a unique skill set which has benefited all of her clients resulting in victory and success in each case she has handled. Mrs. Hansen, in her own practice, has handled criminal defense cases, personal injury cases and real estate disputes. She speaks Spanish, French and is proficient in Italian which enables her to represent clients from all over the world. She is dedicated to the growth and success of Hansen & Taylor and prides herself in giving VIP treatment to each and every client. Marcia lives in Coral Gables with her husband and daughter. She is an avid sports fan, an animal lover and political junkie. She is also a supporter and member of the Board of Executive Relations for the Special Olympics of Miami, an organization dedicated to the well being of children and adults with disabilities.

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