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DC Federal Sentencing Factors

Many different factors play a role in determining a federal sentence, including the type of offense that was committed, a defendant’s criminal history and the particular facts and circumstances under which the offense was committed. Additionally, the defendant’s history, characteristics and background are also relevant to determining an appropriate federal sentence. Therefore, organizing the relevant facts in a case and using those facts to argue for a mitigated or lower sentence is one of the ways a DC federal attorney can help a defendant obtain a fair and just sentence. To discuss your case and sentencing for DC federal crimes further, call and schedule a consultation today.

How An Attorney Can Impact Sentencing

There are several stages in a federal criminal case where an attorney might influence the sentence a client might receive. If a defendant is found guilty at trial or pleads guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, the judge will order the probation office to put together a pre-sentence investigation report, which is commonly referred to as a PSR. Part of the PSR requires the probation office to calculate the applicable advisory guideline range in a case. A draft of this PSR is disclosed to the defense attorney and the prosecutor, and both are allowed to object to the PSR’s calculation of the guidelines and other facts within the PSR.

When you object, you make arguments directly to the person who wrote the PSR with the goal of convincing that person to adopt your calculations. Attorneys can also influence the ultimate sentence when submitting a sentencing memorandum with the court. In the memorandum, the attorney will explain the history and background of his or her client and discuss mitigating factors, including why the offense happened and why the person was involved.  The memorandum develops a narrative so that the judge understands the client is not a bad person. The person is always much more than the offense he was charged with, however until a person reaches sentencing, most judges know very little about their background, family, character, and particular circumstances.

The sentencing hearing itself is the last opportunity for attorneys to influence the sentence by making oral arguments to the judge directly.

Does The Prosecution Make a Recommendation For a Specific Sentence As Well?

Yes. Both sides advocate for the sentence they believe is appropriate in a given case and whether the arguments for implementing an appropriate sentence are governed by another federal statute, called 18 USC 3553(a), which delineates the proper purposes and goals of sentencing. Both sides will make arguments that are consistent with 3553(a) in an effort to either raise the sentence or lower the sentence.

In most cases, the government will look to increase the sentence to deter the commission of future crimes and to protect the community. The defense will argue for a lower sentence by highlighting mitigating arguments.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in Federal Sentencing

Aggravating factors in a criminal case include the number of victims and whether those victims were vulnerable, physically harmed or died as a result of the crime. In white collar cases, an offense that employs sophisticated means, false statements, or undermines national security may result in a more severe sentence. A person’s role as an organizer or leader would also be considered an aggravating factor.

These are all things that would be considered aggravating circumstance or aggravating factors that would raise someone’s guideline range in accordance with the federal sentencing guidelines.

Mitigating factors include playing a minor role in the offense and accepting responsibility for the offense.  Sometimes imperfect defenses such as duress or aberrant behavior may constitute a mitigating factor.  Such factors can lower the advisory guideline range or result in the Court varying downwards from the guideline range.

Judges Discretion in Sentencing

After the U.S. vs. Booker ruling in 2005, federal judges have almost full discretion in sentencing. Judges can sentence the defendant to a sentence that they deem properly addresses the factors and purposes of sentencing delineated in 18 USC 3553(a).

However, every federal judge in every federal criminal case must still calculate the proper guideline range for each defendant they are about to sentence. Many judges still use the federal guidelines as the starting point of their sentencing determination. The guidelines are still very influential and the majority of federal sentences still fall within the advisory guideline range. However, because of the U.S. vs. Booker decision, arguments the defense can make legitimate arguments to impose a sentence that is below the advisory guideline range.

Federal Sentencing Pleas

When a person makes their initial appearance before a federal judge, they have the opportunity enter a plea. At that stage, a person will plead not guilty and assert their constitutional rights so that their DC federal defense attorney can engage in a dialogue with the prosecutors to identify the best course of action with respect to the person’s defense. If a plea bargain is reached later on, the plea will be changed to guilty as part of the deal entered.

However, before any such deal is reached there a number of different things that need to be taken into account. To discuss these things and whether a plea may be a viable option in your case, call and schedule a consultation today.

Things To Consider Before Making a Plea

When someone pleads guilty, they are admitting responsibility for an offense the government charges them with, which is a very serious matter and one that should not be taken lightly. The individual will likely face prison time or probation if they plead guilty, and could even lose their right to vote if they are charged with a felony. They may have to disclose to current and future employers that they committed a crime and pleaded guilty.

There are also collateral consequences for pleading guilty that an attorney can advise the person about to determine the right course of action. For example, a criminal conviction can impact one’s immigration status in the United States, voting rights, and eligibility benefits.

Importance of Consulting With An Attorney before Making a Plea

It’s important to have an attorney when deciding how to plea because an attorney can identify weaknesses in the government’s case. They may be used to help convince the prosecutor to provide a more favorable plea arrangement than they would otherwise provide. If an attorney can identify flaws in the government’s case, the prosecutor might be more willing to allow a person to be eligible for a lower prison sentence.

It is just about impossible for someone to negotiate a plea bargain with the government without the help of an experienced attorney.

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Sentencing in DC Federal Cases

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