Many defendants in bribery cases are unsure what to expect in sentencing due to the legal concept of departure. A departure means there is a specific provision in the guidelines that allows the judge to adjust the sentencing guidelines range upward or downward if appropriate.
If you are concerned about the possible ramifications for a bribery conviction, consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney could analyze all potential departure considerations in DC bribery cases and work towards a positive outcome on your behalf.
Two legal concepts are at work in upward and downward departures. The primary guideline that allows for a downward departure is in Section 5K. When a person who pled guilty or was found guilty of a bribery charge cooperated successfully with the government, the government at its discretion may file a motion under Section 5K1 of the sentencing guidelines to inform the judge that a downward departure in the guidelines is appropriate. The only party who can move for a downward departure under that section is the government; the judge and the defense cannot do so.
Some other departures could potentially be imposed, but that is rare. One is a departure that can be used is for military service. Another is a departure is for physical disability or other health issues.
Departure is different from variance. Variance is a concept that allows a judge to adjust downward in the sentencing, not as far as lowering the guideline range, but by taking into account factors under 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a). For instance, let’s say the advisory guideline range before considering departures at sentencing is a 24. The government makes a motion for a departure under Section 5K1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines. The judge agrees and departs down another three levels in the guidelines to Level 21, which has an accompanying guideline range.
The parties make arguments at sentencing. A further variance downward by another five levels due to factors under Section 3553(a) might be suggested by the defense because of the nature and circumstances of the offense. The defense lawyer could argue that their client’s role in the offense was a minor role, the defendant has no prior criminal history, or they have a history of substance abuse that led to becoming involved in the offense, et cetera. The judge makes a decision about what the sentence should be. If there is a variance downward, the judge makes that determination. The court could also vary upward depending on what the government argues at a sentencing.
Criminal history is important because it is one of two factors used to determine a guideline range. The other factor is the conduct associated with the offense. After a complex analysis is completed, the results are placed on the sentencing table. Six criminal history categories run across the top of the table. The least serious criminal history category is I, the most serious category is VI. Forty-three offense levels are listed along the left side of the table. The more serious the crime, the higher the offense level.
Points are calculated depending on a person’s criminal history. When someone has no prior criminal convictions, they are in category I. When looking at the guidelines, if one is in the column that corresponds with category I and they look at the offense level, the guideline ranges in Criminal History Category I are the lowest on the guidelines chart. The defense lawyer must understand their client’s criminal history because it directly relates to their potential sentence.
It is important for anyone facing sentencing in a federal bribery case to have an experienced, hard-working lawyer handling their case. Bribery cases are complicated. Judges treat them particularly harshly because of the potential of bribery to corrupt government contracting and the functions of government, so the potential sentence may be harsh under the guidelines.
A person being sentenced should have an experienced lawyer who fully understands the relevant departure considerations in a DC bribery case. An attorney knows what information to bring to bear with a specific judge that may affect their decision in a positive way.
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