Sentencing and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

One of the most significant differences between New York State Court and Federal Court is the manner in which a defendant is sentenced. While prosecutors on the State level (Assistant District Attorneys or Assistant Attorneys General) can offer a specific sentence (for example, one to three years in prison or probation), Federal prosecutors (Assistant United States Attorneys or Department of Justice Trial Attorneys) do not have the same liberty. Instead, upon a plea of guilty to a particular Federal crime, there is no guarantee you will receive a pre-agreed upon sentence. This potential exposure is not only gravely concerning to an accused or convicted felon, but exemplifies why it is critical that your criminal attorney or lawyer has the experience to seek a departure from the severe federal sentencing guidelines.

In Federal court, once a person pleads guilty or is found guilty after trial, that is only half the process. As noted above, unlike in most state courts, such as the State of New York, when a person pleads guilty, he or she is not guaranteed what his sentence will be. Instead, the District Judge will take many factors into account to determine what the appropriate sentence will be. A seasoned and skilled attorney can help an individual achieve through this process.

Post Plea or Conviction: What Happens Next?

After a plea or guilty verdict, the Judge will order the Federal Department of Probation to issue a report about the defendant and the crime. Both the government and the defendant will have an opportunity to comment on the report and to inform the Judge about anything relevant to sentencing.

Under the law, the Judge must consider several factors to determine a just sentence. Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a) states that: The court shall impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary. The court, in determining the particular sentence to be imposed, shall consider:

  1. the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;
  2. the need for the sentence imposed – (A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense; (B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; (C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and (D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care , or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;
  3. the kinds of sentences available;
  4. the kinds of sentences and the sentencing range established for – (A) the applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth in the United States Sentencing Guidelines;
  5. any pertinent policy statement by the Sentencing Commission;
  6. the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and
  7. the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

As noted above, one of those factors is the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Since 1987, federal judges have been mandated to consider the guidelines to help determine an appropriate sentence. The guidelines were created so that all similarly situated defendants throughout the country would be sentenced consistently. For many years, from 1987 until 2005, Judges had to sentence defendants according to the guidelines. Since 2005, Judges must consider, but are not mandated to follow the guidelines. They have in effect, become “guidelines.” Essentially, the guidelines use a grid number system to determine the seriousness of the offense and the severity of the defendant’s criminal history. Where a defendant (seriousness of the offense and criminal history) falls on that grid determines the range of prison as a sentence (in months) recommended by the guidelines. Because of this new found discretion, it is critical, if not essential, to prepare and present the strongest argument to a Federal Judge to convince him or her to deviate in a manner favorable to you. The alternative, is potentially an overwhelming term of incarceration.

Put yourself in the best position to preserve your liberty and future. Let Crotty Saland PC’s experience, knowledge and advocacy work for you.

Call the Federal criminal attorneys and former prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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