Federal sentencing after a conviction is still largely a numbers game. What do I mean by this? I certainly don’t mean to imply that a sentencing in Federal Court after a conviction is any kind of a game. It is deadly serious and it impacts a person’s live forever. The consequences of a conviction can be permanent. I wrote in Part 1 about the history of Federal Sentencing. Part 2 will describe the Federal Sentencing Guidelines which were adopted by authority of Congress.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines establish a point system for every crime and a point level for each person based on his criminal record or lack of a criminal record. For example, if a person pleads guilty or is convicted by a jury of a fraud crime, in order to determine their sentence they would look in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Book for the number of points assigned to the particular fraud crime. Let’s assume the number of points was 6. That would be called the Base Offense Level. In all fraud crimes punishment is based on the value of the crime, so you have to look at a table that directs you to add more points depending on how much money was stolen. Let us assume a person stole $20,000.00 dollars. The tables would say add 4 more points. We are now at 10 points. There are other areas in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that you have to review. These are called Adjustments. Some Adjustments are good and some are bad, meaning they direct you to either add or subtract points. Eventually you end up with an Adjusted Offense Level that is represented by points. The higher the points the higher the prison term.

In addition to the Adjusted Offense Points, one must also look at the Criminal History of a person being sentenced. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines assigns points based on criminal history. Each prior felony is assigned 3 points. A misdemeanor is assigned 1 point, up to a maximum of 4. Points are assigned for other reasons. There is a table in the front of each Guideline book. On the left side of the page are the Adjusted Base Points that go down the page and get higher. For example, the points start at 1 and go down the page to number 43. Across the top of the page is the Criminal History which starts at 1 and goes to 5. So, to determine your sentence you take your Adjusted Base Offense level and Criminal History and find where they intersect on the page. This gives you a range. If you had a Offense level of 15 and a Criminal History of 2 you would be in a Sentencing range of 21-27 months imprisonment. A Offense Level of 39 and Criminal History of 5 would be 360 months to life.

Until recently the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were mandatory. By that I mean the Judge was required to sentence you in the Guideline Range unless there were facts justified by the Guideline Book that permitted the Judge to deviate higher or lower. Several years back the United States Supreme Court held that Congress did not have the authority to make the Federal Guidelines mandatory. The Guideline are now advisory and only one part of sentencing. The Judge should look at the Guidelines but the Judge is also required to look at every aspect of the person, his history, the circumstances of the offense, and other factors set out in 18 United States Code, Section 3553. I have watched sentencing in Mississippi and it appears to me that sentences given in Federal Court are still tied very closely to the Guidelines. I have not personally seen much deviation from the Guidelines.

Sentencing in Federal Court is complex. It involves more than just telling the Judge that your client is a “good person.” I have the same opinion about a sentencing in State Court. A criminal case is not for beginner lawyers or those lawyers lacking a will to work. Helping people takes time, dedication, and a genuine interest in your client’s welfare. At Coxwell & Associates the attorneys are dedicated to the interest of their clients. We have traveled across the entire State helping people with legal problems. If you have a problem call 601-948-1600 or e mail Merrida Coxwell at Merridac@coxwelllaw.com.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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