Federal sentences are different than State criminal sentences. For example, when pleading guilty to a State crime, you already know what your punishment is going to be because it has been negotiated ahead of time. Unless, something goes wrong while in front of the judge, you will get the punishment you agreed upon. Meanwhile in a Federal sentence, the punishment depends on the crime, the Sentencing Guidelines, and several other factors. On the day of sentencing for a Federal crime, the defendant will go into the courthouse with an uncertainty of how much time he/she may actually receive because the judge will make the ultimate decision.
Once a client decides to plea guilty in a Federal case, a Presentence Report interview will be set up with a United States Probation Officer. The report will contain criminal history, biographical information, medical information, and it will describe the offense in detail. This report is very important because the judge will rely heavily on it when imposing a sentence, so one must make sure the information is correct.
When the report is complete, you can proceed forward with the sentencing hearing. Prior to 2005, sentencing was based solely on the Federal sentencing guidelines, which resulted in really harsh punishments. The Sentencing Guidelines is a points system that results in a number based on the crime, your criminal history, your participation in the crime, if a gun was involved, and any other aggravating factors. That number would then determine your fate/time you would spend in prison.
Now, things are done a bit differently thanks to U.S. v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), where the Supreme Court held that the sentencing guidelines are only advisory and not mandatory. What that means is they can still refer to them when imposing a sentence but now other factors should also be taken into account. As a result, we now use 18 U.S.C. §3553(a), which is comprised of 7 factors that the court must consider when imposing a sentence. The factors to be considered are:
- the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;
- the need for the sentence imposed—
- to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;
- to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
- to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and
- to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;
- the kinds of sentences available;
- the kinds of sentence and the sentencing range established for—
- the applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth in the guidelines—
- in the case of a violation of probation or supervised release, the applicable guidelines or policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to section 994(a)(3) of title 28
- any pertinent policy statement—
- the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and
- the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.
Booker helps defense attorney provide “mitigating” factors to show that this person is more than just a number. Mitigating factors can include letters from the community showing that the person is of good character, family history, cooperation with the investigation, or anything to show that the person should not be sentenced harshly. Federal offenses are a tough but with the correct representation, your rights will be preserved and fought vigorously.
If you have been charged with a federal offense, contact the lawyers at the Law Office of Patrick J McLain, PLLC. We can help defend you against various crimes and will fight vigorously to protect your legal rights. You can call us 24/7 by calling 900 Jackson Street, Suite 635 Dallas, Texas 75202. Don’t wait before it is too late!