Representation and Sentencing in Federal Court-Part 1

Sentencing in Federal Court is unlike sentencing in State Court. It has been different for over 20 years. Federal Sentencing involves the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. There are volumes of books published just for the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and the thousands of legal cases that have dealt with every issue of the Guidelines. Before we go into detail let’s look back at Federal Sentencing before the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Up until the late 1980’s Sentencing in Federal Court was not much different than sentencing in any State Court. Congress set the maximum and minimum punishments for each crime just like the State Legislatures set the maximum and minimum punishments for each offense. When a person pleaded guilty or was found guilty by a jury, the prosecutor would point out all the bad parts of the crime or the bad aspects of the person convicted and ask the Court to impose a harsh sentence, and the lawyer for the accused would point out factors like whether this was a first offense, the background of the accused, his family ties, work history, and any other set of circumstances that might influence the Court to impose a less harsh sentence. In spite of the fact this system had worked successfully since the history of our modern legal system, many people believed sentencing was haphazard, inconsistent,and that people who were convicted of white collar crimes received lenient treatment. Congress then set up the United States Sentencing Commission to study the problem and come up with solutions.

The solution proposed by the Sentencing Commission was to develop a set of mandatory rules that would guide Judges based on a point system. The idea was to set out a sentencing range within the minimum and maximum punishment set by Congress, and set out factors for the Court to consider. In most instances the Court would be required to sentence the person convicted within that range, unless there were specific facts that the Judge set out in writing that justified going above the range or below the range. The Guidelines were developed and made mandatory. In every instance the Judge was required to follow the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. They were the beginning and end for the consideration of each Federal Sentence! There will be additional articles on Federal Sentencing in the coming days. Look for future parts.

Merrida Coxwell is the Managing Partner of Coxwell & Associates, a law firm that focuses its time and energy on criminal defense and serious personal injury. The attorneys at Coxwell & Associates know the consequences of a criminal conviction to a person. They are available to help with a problem. Call at 601-948-1600 or e mail

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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