If you’re convicted of a federal crime, your future could be based on a chart. Federal Sentencing Guidelines set out a range of possible punishments, and sentences can be based on many factors. The guidelines aren’t mandatory, so effective legal counsel can make a big difference in securing the most favorable sentence possible.
What Are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply to federal felony and Class A misdemeanor offenses. They’re designed to give judges clear standards when deciding an offender’s sentence. Before the guidelines were released in the 1980s, federal judges had broad discretion over sentencing, which is now narrower.
There’s a base amount of prison time in the guidelines. They get more specific based on the facts of your case. This could involve the amount of drugs involved, if you used a gun when committing the crime, or if someone using the drugs you sold was injured as a result.
The guidelines included in this chart provides possible sentences in the number of months to be served based on:
- The Severity of the Crime: There are 43 levels, going from the least to the most severe, depending on the conduct involved
- The Defendant’s Criminal Record: There are six criminal history categories, with a range of “criminal history points.” Prior convictions and the associated sentences determine these. More points are added if the defendant reoffended shortly after or during a previous sentence
Based on this information, a judge will end up in one of four sentencing zones:
A. This is the least serious, with sentences from no time in prison to six months. Offenders may get probation
B. Maximum sentences are up to 12 months. There may be probation, but the offender must be in prison for at least a month
C. The sentence could be less than 18 months. There may be a “split sentence” where at least half the sentence would be served in prison
D. These are the most serious crimes in the highest range, with minimum sentences of more than 15 months
Do Judges Have To Follow the Guidelines?
The guidelines are not mandatory, thanks to US Supreme Court decisions in 2004 and 2005, though most of the time, the sentence will fall within the stated range. A federal judge would calculate a sentence range based on the chart and use it as guidance. But the final sentence need not be within that range.
A federal statute states judges can use the following factors when deciding a sentence:
- The type of offense
- The defendant’s “characteristics”
- How the sentence reflects the conduct involved
- Whether the sentence is an effective deterrent
- If the sentence sufficiently protects the public
- Whether the offender might be rehabilitated
- How the sentencing guidelines apply
- Any other public policy concerns
These are issues that can help you serve a lighter sentence:
- Drug trafficking: You cooperated with law enforcement and helped them make other arrests and convictions
- Sex crimes: You were compelled or forced to commit the crime because you feared retaliation if you did not
- White-collar crimes: You accept the fact you committed the crimes and are genuinely sorry. You want to make the situation right by paying restitution.
How We Can Help
The federal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico attorneys will fight hard to defend your legal rights and freedom. But when a plea agreement is the best outcome, you need someone to present your case in the best possible light.
We can negotiate with the prosecution about pleading guilty to a less severe crime. And because the guidelines aren’t mandatory, we’ll make the case that you deserve the lightest sentence.
If you or a loved one are charged with federal crimes, there’s too much at stake for you to try to handle this by yourself or hire a lawyer without deep experience defending clients in federal court. Call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today at (540) 343-9349. Initial consults are free and confidential.