How Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work?

By Jonathan Rose PA | Federal Criminal Defense

federal sentencing

Federal sentencing is different from state sentencing. It’s tougher on defendants; prosecutors are more experienced and heavily involved in building the case, and federal sentences tend to be much longer than state sentences.

As you can see when viewing this sentencing table, federal sentences can be severe.

As a result, over 95% of defendants facing federal charges will plead guilty or no contest to avoid going to trial. Federal sentences are determined by two main factors. First, if there is a minimum mandatory sentence required by the statute a client has been convicted of violating, the judge must give that minimum sentence unless the client qualifies for certain exceptions in the sentencing guidelines. Second, the sentencing guidelines provide detailed guidance for how severe or lenient a sentence should be. The sentencing guidelines must be applied by the sentencing judge for a sentence to be legal.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Are Tough

The federal guidelines establish a range of months for various types of federal crimes. Federal judges use the following criteria when handing down a sentence:

*The client’s criminal history. Federal criminal history scores are determined not by the type of crime, but by the length of the sentence. For instance, any jail or prison sentence totaling one year and one month or more equal three criminal history points. However, a jail sentence totaling 60 days or more equals two points, and any sentence of fewer than sixty days of jail equals one point. This includes multi-year probation sentences.
*The type of the crime. There are many different types of federal crimes, and they all differ in what circumstances affect the sentence. In drug crimes, the quantity of drugs involved and the presence or use of firearms are common issues that drive the guideline range. In financial crimes, the amount of loss (both actual loss and “intended” or attempted loss), the number of victims and financial effect on the victims frequently determine the guideline range.

*Role in the offense. If a client has an extremely minimal role in an offense, a sentence can be significantly reduced. However, if a client is found to have a large role in which he or she supervises others, recruits others, or provides direction to others, the sentence may be increased. It is vitally important to take this into account when considering what a client’s sentence may be.

*Departures. The sentencing guidelines contain multiple ways that a judge can “depart” from the recommended guideline sentence. Pleading guilty normally results in a 3 level downward departure. Cooperating with the government may result in a downward departure. In drug cases, if a client has a very minimal criminal history, is not a major player in the offense, no firearm is involved, there is no death or serious bodily injury, and the client provides the government information about his role in the offense, the client may be eligible for the “safety valve” provision. This provides a 2 level downward departure and also allows the judge to sentence below any minimum mandatory sentence.

*Mitigation. Federal judges must consider a client’s personal history and characteristics in determining a sentence. Jonathan Rose is skilled at providing federal judges with information about the client that can dramatically reduce a client’s sentence.

*Disadvantaged backgrounds. If a client comes from a disadvantaged background, factors such as drug and alcohol use (by the client or client’s family), physical, emotional, or sexual abuse suffered by the client, physical limitations, and mental and emotional problems can all be presented in a manner that makes a judge understand how a client came to be in this position. Jonathan Rose is skilled in the use of expert witnesses such as psychologists, psychiatrists, polygraphers (lie detector test operators), doctors, religious authorities, and other professionals to present evidence and information to federal courts to maximize the effectiveness of such information.

*Meritorious backgrounds. If a client has lived an otherwise meritorious and upright life, these factors can also be taken into consideration by the court. Charitable work, repeated acts of kindness to family, friends, and others, exemplary work history, military service, and other factors can provide evidence that the client’s involvement in a crime is an aberration, and any sentence should take into account that it is unlikely that the client will engage in such conduct again.

This information allows a judge see the whole person, including all of a client’s positive qualities, as opposed to the view that a client is simply a criminal. All clients have such issues, but the burden is on the client and his or her attorney to bring them to the attention of the court. Such information must be presented carefully and skillfully to help achieve a significantly reduced sentence.

The Right Legal Representation Is Important

If charged with a federal crime in Orlando or anywhere in Florida, you’ll be facing evidence presented by U.S. government agencies such as the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, or even the Secret Service. It is vitally important to have an attorney who is experienced with federal sentencing representing you in these types of cases. It’s a whole new level of severity in federal court and the stakes are high. Prepare your best defense with help from federal crimes attorney Jonathan Rose.

Orlando attorney Jonathan Rose is a skilled and experienced criminal professional trial attorney and former Marine based in Orlando, FL. He is dedicated to protecting his client’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and will fight for you at every step of the way.

Contact our Orlando office at 407-894-4555 or request a consultation online for a review of your case.

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