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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.

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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.

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Will I Go to Federal Prison for a First Offense? An Attorney’s Insight

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 10:09 am


Will I Go to Federal Prison for a First Offense? An Attorney’s Insight

Getting charged with a federal crime can be scary. Even if it’s your first offense, you may be worried about whether you’ll end up in prison. As a defense attorney who regularly represents people facing federal charges, I’m here to provide some insight.

How Federal Sentencing Works

There’s no simple yes or no answer to whether you’ll go to prison for a first federal offense. Federal sentencing is complex, but here’s a quick overview:

  • Federal crimes have sentencing guidelines that judges consider. The guidelines provide a range of recommended sentences based on the crime, your criminal history, and other factors.
  • Judges don’t have to follow the guidelines exactly but need strong reasons to go above or below them.
  • For many federal crimes, the guideline range includes some prison time even for first offenses.
  • Judges can depart from the guidelines and impose probation instead of prison in some cases, especially for low-level crimes.

So while the guidelines often recommend prison for first offenses, there are still opportunities in some cases to avoid it. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can help advocate for a more lenient sentence.

What Factors Impact Your Sentence?

Federal sentences depend on the details of each case. Some key factors judges consider include:

  • Your Criminal History – First-time offenders generally get lower sentences than repeat offenders. Your lack of criminal record helps argue for leniency.
  • The Type of Crime – More serious crimes like drug trafficking or fraud face harsher guidelines and higher chances of prison. Minor crimes may allow probation.
  • Your Role – Leaders and organizers of criminal activity get tougher sentences than lower-level accomplices.
  • Weapon Possession – Crimes involving guns or dangerous weapons lead to longer prison terms.
  • Loss Amounts – For fraud and theft crimes, higher loss amounts mean longer sentences.
  • Acceptance of Responsibility – Admitting guilt and showing remorse helps reduce sentences.
  • Assistance to Prosecutors – Providing substantial assistance to the government’s investigation through a plea agreement can lower sentences.

These are just some of the main factors judges look at. The sentencing guidelines account for many of them through a point system that determines your guideline range.

What About Mandatory Minimum Sentences?

Some federal laws require mandatory minimum prison terms for convictions. This means judges must impose at least the minimum sentence, regardless of sentencing guidelines. Examples include:

  • 5 year minimum for drug trafficking over 500 grams of cocaine
  • 10 year minimum for drug trafficking over 5 kilograms of cocaine
  • 5 year minimum for carrying a gun during drug trafficking
  • 10 year minimum for being a felon in possession of a firearm

These laws limit judges’ discretion. But mandatory minimums don’t apply to every federal crime. And there are still ways defense lawyers can try avoiding them through plea negotiations.

Don’t Lose Hope – Consider Your Defenses

Even when facing serious charges or mandatory minimums, experienced federal defense attorneys can craft strong defenses to fight the case. Some possible defenses include:

  • Constitutional challenges – Illegal searches, lack of Miranda warnings, etc. can lead to evidence exclusion and dismissals.
  • Entrapment – When government agents improperly induced you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t.
  • Self-defense – Responding with reasonable force to protect yourself or others.
  • Duress – Committing a crime due to threats of immediate bodily harm.
  • Insanity – Mental disease or defect that made you unable to understand the nature of your actions.
  • Misidentification – Prosecutors have the wrong person and lack proof you committed the crime.
  • Alibi – You have evidence putting you in a different location than the crime scene.

Raising doubts about the prosecution’s case and your level of culpability can persuade the judge to impose a lighter sentence. But the earlier you hire a lawyer to start building your defense, the better.

Be Proactive and Hire an Attorney

The bottom line is there are many ways for first-time offenders to potentially avoid or minimize prison sentences for federal crimes. But it takes an aggressive and experienced federal criminal defense lawyer fighting for you every step of the way. Don’t wait until after you’re charged – consult with a lawyer as soon as you learn you’re under federal investigation.

I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of the federal sentencing process. Every case is different, with its own risks and chances to reduce penalties. If you or a loved one are facing federal charges, I encourage you to contact me for a free case evaluation and to discuss defenses tailored to your unique circumstances.

About the Author

John Smith is a former federal prosecutor turned criminal defense lawyer. He represents clients facing federal charges nationwide. Mr. Smith graduated from Harvard Law School and previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in California. He has obtained numerous acquittals and favorable plea deals for his clients over his 20 year career.


U.S. Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual, §1A1.2 (Nov. 2018).
18 U.S.C. § 924 (2018).
U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Resource Manual 608 (2018).

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