How Does Federal Sentencing Work?

Experienced Former Prosecutors Who Have Handled Diverse Cases All Over the Nation

When charged with a federal crime, you may be subject to a sentence by a federal judge. The federal sentencing procedure, though, is quite complex and takes many factors into account to determine the penalty range. Attorney Rick Collins has been practicing law as a criminal defense lawyer since 1990, and throughout his legal career he has handled diverse cases in many different districts all across the US. He is licensed in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and the District of Columbia. He is also a former prosecutor who knows what to anticipate from the government and how to present an effective case for mitigated charges. From negotiation to litigation, Rick Collins will know how to protect your rights in federal court and guide you through the federal sentencing process.

The Sentencing Decision

A few months after a defendant is found guilty of a federal crime, the case will typically be back in court for a sentencing hearing. The judge will receive guidance and assistance from several different sources to sentence a defendant, and Congress has established minimum and maximum punishments for certain crimes. In particular, the judge will work with the sentencing guidelines established by the United States Sentencing Commission that recommends certain punishments for specific crimes. The judge may also consult a presentence report by the US Probation Department and consider statements from the alleged victims as well as the defendant and lawyers. The judge may further consider any aggravating or mitigating factors, such as whether the defendant has committed the same crime before, whether the defendant has expressed regret for the crime, and the nature of the crime itself.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines – Offense Levels and Adjustments

“Will I go to prison?” That’s the question most clients ask their lawyers early on in the course of a federal criminal prosecution. Whether any defendant will be committed to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons is dependent on a matrix of factors including but not limited to the statute of conviction, the seriousness of the crime, and the individual’s past criminal history if any. Often, federal sentencing decisions rest on the sentencing guidelines established by the United States Sentencing Commission.

The federal sentencing guidelines were created to foster greater consistency in punishment for federal crimes. For example, two defendants charged with committing the same or similar crimes in two different cases – one charged in a New York federal court and one in a Montana federal court – should face similar punishments. In order to enhance this move toward greater uniformity, a system was devised that looks at the seriousness of the offense and the past criminal history of the defendant. The guidelines assign most federal crimes an “offense level” between 1 and 43. The more serious the crime, the higher the base offense level. An offender will also be assigned to one of six “criminal history categories” based on the nature, number and recency of prior criminal activity, where Category I is for those with the least serious criminal records and Category VI is for the most extensive.

Note that the presence of certain characteristics can raise or lower the final offense level from the basic level established above, such as victim-related adjustments, the offender’s role in the offense, obstruction of justice, multiple counts, and acceptance of responsibility. For instance, the following factors might influence a base offense level:

  • +4 levels if the offender was a leader or organizer of 5 or more participants;
  • +2 levels if the offender knew that the alleged victim was unusually vulnerable due to age or physical or mental condition;
  • +2 if a dangerous weapon (including a firearm) was possessed;
  • +2 levels if the offender obstructed justice;
  • -2 levels if the offender clearly accepts responsibility.

Where the final offense level and the defendant’s criminal history category meet on the US Sentencing Commission’s federal sentencing table is the defendant’s final sentencing range. For instance, a person whose crime has been assigned an offense level of 17 and whose criminal history category is III could face 30-37 months of imprisonment, based on the Commission’s table.

Note that it is possible for a judge to vary from the guidelines where the circumstances of the offense indicate that it would be unreasonable for the judge to sentence strictly according to the guidelines. A sentence must be sufficient but not greater than necessary, and the guidelines are not mandatory but merely “advisory.” To impose a sentence based on a variance from the guidelines, though, the judge must state the reasons in writing, after considering all of the sentencing factors in combination with mitigating or aggravating factors.

Contact Attorney Rick Collins for Legal Support Today

The federal sentencing process is quite complex and can be confusing, especially as federal law and guidelines encompass a large range of factors and can be quite nuanced. If you have questions about what you may be sentenced to under the federal guidelines, do not hesitate to reach out to Attorney Rick Collins and the lawyers of Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC. They can examine the facts and circumstances of your case to help estimate the potential outcomes of your sentence. And from there, they can work together with you to build a strategy to seek a mitigated sentence.

Schedule a free initial consultation with Attorney Rick Collins today. Call (516) 243-8255 or contact the firm online.

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