If you are a defendant who has been convicted either by accepting a plea or after having been found guilty by a jury, the United States Sentencing Guidelines will largely determine your sentence. This is true whether your case is handled in federal court in either Phoenix or Tucson, or for that matter, anywhere in the United States. While the Guidelines will also apply whether you are represented by a public defender or the best criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, having a lawyer who has a small caseload and who can pay serious and careful attention to your case can make all the difference in the world.
What are Sentencing Guidelines?
For a very long time, federal judges could sentence criminal defense to almost any sentence they thought was fit, so long as it was within the minimum and maximum sentences imposed by Congress. This created a lot of discrepancies.
In 1984, Congress passed the United States Sentence Guidelines in hopes that federal judges in New York would impose similar sentences to judges in Arizona on similar types of cases, of course. In so many words, Congress was looking for uniformity across the country.
In the early 2000’s challenges were brought to the Guidelines based on the old separation of powers doctrine. Criminal defense attorneys didn’t like the fact that the legislature was telling what the judiciary what to do. The Supreme Court agreed.
Now the Guidelines are “advisory” in nature. Kind of like a president telling you that he “hopes” that you will do something. Judges still follow the Guidelines, but on occasion, they will go above or below the recommended sentencing range. When they do, they have to fill out some paperwork to explain why.
How Will My Sentence Be Calculated?
Every offense has a base level. Points are added for reasons that make the crime more serious, and points are deducted for reasons that make the crime less serious. As one example, the organizer of a conspiracy will have a harsher sentence while someone who had a minimal role will have a more lenient sentence.
Once a final offense level is calculated, the Court will look at a defendant’s criminal history. The more serious the history, the harsher the sentence.
Some Specific Applications
The base level offense for a drug charge in federal court is determined by the quantity or weight of the drug. As noted above, the more involved someone is in the conspiracy, the greater the chances of their sentence going up. If a gun was possessed in furtherance of the conspiracy, this too could result in an increased sentence – not to mention a separate charge with a 5 year mandatory consecutive prison sentence.
The sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes in federal court are largely governed by the amount of financial loss. The more money lost, the higher the sentence. Increases can also result from a larger number of victims, as well as a defendant’s use of a special skill or an abuse of trust.
In federal court, child pornography offenses typically have high base offense levels, in addition to mandatory minimum sentences. The offense level can be increased for, among other things, the number of images, the age of the minor depicted, the use of a computer, and also whether or not there are images depicting sadomasochistic conduct. Distribution of images, most commonly through file sharing software, can also cause an increase in sentencing under the Guidelines.
If You are Reading This, You Need an Experienced Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney!
Now in his third decade, and one of Phoenix’s most experienced and well regarded federal criminal defense attorneys, Jason Lamm has handled numerous drug offenses, white collar crimes, and child pornography cases in Arizona federal courts. Having appeared countless times before federal judges in Phoenix and Tucson, Jason has demonstrated exemplary negotiation and trial skills that have resulted in exceptional results for his clients who faced serious federal criminal charges. Jason knows every case is different and that every case needs an individualized and tailored plan of attacked.
To discuss what Jason can do for you, call (602) 663-9100 to set up a personalized and confidential consultation about your pending federal criminal charges.