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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

Todd Spodek is a second generation attorney with immense experience. He has many years of experience handling 100’s of tough and hard to win trials. He’s been featured on major news outlets, such as New York Post, Newsweek, Fox 5 New York, South China Morning Post, Insider.com, and many others.

In 2022, Netflix released a series about one of Todd’s clients: Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin.

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The reason is simple: clients want white glove service, and lawyers who can win. Every single client who works with the Spodek Law Group is aware that the attorney they hire could drastically change the outcome of their case. Hiring the Spodek Law Group means you’re taking your future seriously. Our lawyers handle cases nationwide, ranging from NYC to LA. Our philosophy is fair and simple: our nyc criminal lawyers only take on clients who we know will benefit from our services.

We’re selective about the clients we work with, and only take on cases we know align with our experience – and where we can make a difference. This is different from other law firms who are not invested in your success nor care about your outcome.

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How Does Federal Sentencing Work?

By Spodek Law Group | July 26, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 15, 2023)

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 07:50 am

How Does Federal Sentencing Work?

Federal sentencing can seem complicated, but it’s important to understand the basics if you or a loved one is facing charges. This article will walk through the key parts of the process in a simple way.


After someone is found guilty in federal court, they’ll come back to court a few months later for sentencing. The judge gets help deciding the sentence from Congress, sentencing guidelines, a presentence report, statements from the defense and prosecution, and the victims.

There’s a lot that goes into it, but the main things that impact the sentence are:

  • The crime itself
  • Criminal history
  • Federal sentencing guidelines
  • Minimum and maximum punishments set by Congress
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors

Judges have a lot of discretion, but they don’t just pick a sentence out of thin air. Let’s look at each part of the process.

The Crime

The judge will consider the specific crime someone was convicted of. More serious crimes generally get longer sentences. Things like:

  • Was someone hurt or killed?
  • Were drugs or guns involved?
  • How much money was involved in a fraud?

All those factors can increase or decrease the sentence recommendation.

Criminal History

Someone’s past criminal record is a big deal. If they have prior convictions, especially for similar crimes, it’ll likely mean more prison time. The judge will look at:

  • Number of past crimes
  • Types of crimes
  • Similarity to current crime
  • When past crimes happened
  • If they were in juvenile or adult court

More priors, especially recent, serious ones like the current charge, tend to increase sentences.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

These guidelines from the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommend prison terms based on the crime, criminal history, and other factors.

The guidelines assign points for things like:

  • Base offense level – each crime has a starting point
  • Specific offense characteristics – factors that make the crime worse
  • Multiple counts – getting convicted of more than one charge
  • Role in the offense – organizer vs minor player
  • Obstructing justice
  • Accepting responsibility

Add up the points and the guidelines recommend a sentencing range. Judges aren’t bound by the guidelines but consider them heavily.

Minimum and Maximum Sentences

For many crimes, Congress passed laws setting minimum and maximum punishments a judge can impose. Like 5-20 years for robbery. The judge picks a sentence within that range.

Mandatory minimums are minimum sentences that must be imposed no matter what. They limit a judge’s discretion.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

These are factors that make a crime more or less serious. Aggravating factors like using a weapon or being a leader of a drug ring can increase the sentence.

Mitigating factors like having no criminal record, showing remorse, or playing a minor role can decrease the sentence.

The Judge’s Discretion

Given all those factors, the judge has discretion to impose a sentence within the minimum and maximum set by Congress. The guidelines provide a recommendation, but judges can depart from them if they find good reason.

Judges can also consider things like age, childhood trauma, addiction issues, and family circumstances. Their goal is to impose a sentence that balances punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation.

The Presentence Report

To help decide the sentence, the probation department prepares a presentence report for the judge. This report describes:

  • Details of the crime
  • Impact on victims
  • Defendant’s criminal history
  • Family and personal history
  • Substance abuse or mental health issues
  • Whether they accepted responsibility
  • Recommended sentence per the guidelines

This report heavily influences the judge’s decision, so it’s important to review it for accuracy.

Statements at Sentencing

Before imposing a sentence, the judge will hear statements from the prosecution and defense, victims, and the defendant if they choose.

The defense will argue for leniency, highlighting mitigating factors. The prosecution often argues for a harsher sentence. Victims describe how the crime impacted them.

These statements give a fuller picture of the defendant and crime’s impact when deciding the sentence.

The Sentence

After considering all the above, the judge announces the sentence. For long sentences, defendants may be taken into custody immediately. For shorter ones, they often get time to self-surrender.

If either side feels the sentence is unfair, they can appeal to a higher court. But appeals are hard to win.


  • Many factors impact federal sentences
  • Judges have discretion but guidelines and minimum/maximums limit it
  • The presentence report heavily influences the judge’s decision
  • Statements at sentencing let both sides argue for their desired sentence
  • Appeals are possible but hard to win

The process has a lot of moving parts! Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer helps navigate this complex system. They’ll know how to get the fairest sentence possible.

About the Author

I’m a freelance writer trying to explain the law in simple terms everyone can understand. I’m not a lawyer myself, but I research these topics extensively and do my best to present the key information accurately. Let me know if you have any questions!

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