Federal Sentencing Guidelines for White Collar Crimes – Lawyer Overview
The federal sentencing guidelines are rules that federal judges must consider when sentencing a defendant convicted of a federal offense. They provide sentencing ranges based on the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history to promote fair and consistent sentences. While not mandatory, the guidelines are the starting point for all federal sentences. Understanding how they work is critical for federal defendants.
How the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work
The guidelines use a point system to calculate sentencing ranges:
- Base Offense Level: Determined by the crime. For example, fraud over $6,500 has a base level of 6.
- Amount of Loss: The dollar loss increases the offense level. A loss over $550,000 adds 14 points.
- Number of Victims: Having 10-49 victims adds 2 points; 250+ victims adds 6 points.
- Other Factors: Things like the defendant’s role, if a gun was used, etc. can also increase the offense level.
- Criminal History: More extensive criminal history leads to higher categories and longer sentences.
- Sentencing Table: The final offense level and criminal history category determine the guideline range. For example, offense level 19 and criminal history I gives a range of 30-37 months.
Judges aren’t bound by the guidelines but must explain sentences outside them. Departures may happen due to mitigating/aggravating factors.
Mandatory Minimums and Statutory Maximums
Some laws have mandatory minimum sentences that override the guidelines. For example, bank fraud over $1 million has a 10 year mandatory minimum.
Statutory maximums cap sentences regardless of guidelines. For example, wire fraud has a 20 year maximum sentence.
How Lawyers Argue for Leniency
Experienced lawyers make compelling arguments for lenient sentences despite high guideline ranges:
- Minimal Loss: They show the actual loss was lower than claimed. This reduces the offense level.
- Limited Role: They argue the client had limited involvement versus being a leader. This reduces the level.
- No Prior Crimes: First-time offenders can get departures under the guidelines.
- Health Issues: Illnesses and addictions allowing departures in some cases.
- Cooperation: Substantial assistance to prosecutors may lead to a reduced sentence.
- Good Character: Letters attesting to good deeds and character can sway judges.
- Unfair Burden: Showing incarceration harms innocent family members may help.
- Alternative Sentence: Home confinement, community service, fines, etc. may substitute for prison time.
The sentencing guidelines provide a starting point for determining sentences in federal cases. But experienced advocates can make compelling arguments for leniency and downward departures from the guidelines. Anyone facing federal charges should retain knowledgeable counsel to get the best possible outcome.