Federal sentencing in criminal cases depends upon any number of factors including guidelines imposed upon federal judges and prosecutors. When facing a criminal federal charge whether it be in Federal Court in California, Nevada, Utah or any other Federal Court in the United States, a defendant might have an attitude of hopelessness when facing the Federal Government’s prosecutor, typically a an experienced Assistant United States Attorney. Federal criminal cases can range from drug sales and/or smuggling, importation of counterfeit goods, murder, bank robbery, securities fraud and a whole host of other crimes. Unlike cases in state court such as California, the Federal Sentencing rules can be very complex giving judges less discretion to allow for an appropriate sentence. When arrested for a federal crime, it is important to immediately contact and/or retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who can explain any potential defenses and sentences.
Federal Sentencing/Guidelines and Mandatory Minimums
As many are aware, federal law used to impose mandatory sentences on persons convicted of a federal crime. The mandatory sentences left little room, if any, for a Judge to depart from a sentence based on the individual circumstances of each case. This left persons facing sentences which became longer and quite unfair given an individual case. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was enacted in response to the belief that Federal Judges were giving out too lenient sentences to criminal defendants. The 1984 legislation enacted mandatory sentencing leading to harsher sentences in federal cases. The mandatory sentences were set forth in a Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual used by the federal courts to sentence criminal defendants.
However, in 2005, the United States Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. Booker (2005), gave Federal judges back their discretion to sentenced criminal defendants finding that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual is advisory not mandatory. Moreover, the Supreme Court in Booker also found that courts cannot enhance a defendant’s sentence based on facts that are not either admitted by a defendant or found to be true by a jury. The findings in Booker can be complicated but are definitely to a Defendant’s benefit and an experienced federal criminal defense attorney should be consulted if a person is facing a federal criminal case and possible prison time in a federal penitentiary.
Criminal Sentencing Guidelines
Although the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are only “advisory” pursuant to the Booker case, Federal Judges are still required to consider the federal guidelines in imposing a sentence. Federal judges must also demonstrate that they have considered the guidelines and/or sentencing factors set forth in the United States Criminal Code as codified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), federal courts shall consider the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant. The court shall also consider the need for the sentence imposed to: (a) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment for the offense; (b) afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; (c) protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and (d) provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner. Finally, federal courts shall also consider: (1) the kinds of sentences available; (2) the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and (3) the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.
In many cases, a federal prosecutor will argue for a mandatory sentence based on the guidelines. In reality, as mentioned above. the Guidelines are not mandatory, and thus the range of choice dictated by the facts [and circumstances] of the case’is significantly broadened. Moreover, the Guidelines are only one of the factors to consider when imposing sentence, and § 3553(a)(3) directs the federal court judge to consider sentences other than [just] imprisonment.
Perhaps one of the most difficult issues in defending a federal case whether it be murder, bank robbery, fraud, smuggling of and/or sales of drugs or similar serious felonies is to determine how to deal with potential sentencing issues. A criminal defendant in a federal case can often avoid long prison sentences or jail or prison whatsoever if they are represented by a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney with experiences dealing with complicated federal sentencing issues.