People who have been accused of crimes want and deserve to know the punishments they may face. This is a common question that gets raised—understandably so—when they meet with their criminal defense attorney.
The answer to this question depends on who prosecutes you and what they are prosecuting you for. Sentences being handed down by the state differ depending on which state you are in. If you are facing a federal charge, the sentences previously imposed on similarly situated defendants in the federal district your case is being prosecuted in are considered in determining a sentence for your particular case. This ensures uniformity and fairness. A person convicted of a federal crime in Florida is subject to the same federal sentencing guidelines as someone in Nevada. While a person’s sentence may end up being different because of factors like the United States Attorneys’ Office, Judges in that District, and uniqueness of the particular case, there is a general idea of equality amongst Federal Courts.
Start With The Offense
Before you learn of the potential punishments you may be facing, your attorney will want to meet with you to discuss what you are charged with, the details of the crime, and your personal and criminal history, if you have one.
Your attorney will reference the United States Sentencing Guidelines to determine, based upon the facts of the case and your criminal history, an advisory guideline range. This range will give a starting point and answer the questions, “Am I facing jail?” and “How much time am I facing?”
Your attorney will first calculate the base offense level which will be governed by the particular charge you are facing. For example, imagine someone who has been charged with possessing a firearm illegally. Based on federal sentencing guidelines, there is going to be a particular numeric level assigned to the charge of possessing a firearm illegally, otherwise known as the base offense level.
From there, the specifics of your crime will be used and points will be either added or subtracted to the levels to determine a total offense level. The more points you have, the more time in prison you face. Using the firearm example, a conviction for a violent felony or having a prior conviction for illegal firearm possession adds points to the base offense level. However, if you decide to accept responsibility and enter a guilty plea before the government expends further resources, then points will be subtracted from your offense level. In the end, your attorney will advise you of the total offense level for your particular charge.
If you have any criminal history, then your attorney will use the Sentencing Guidelines to calculate your criminal history category. Much like the offense level, your criminal history category is based on points that are assigned to certain prior convictions, depending on if or how much time you received imprisonment as punishment.
This premise applies to any offense you may be charged with.
How Your Lawyer May Approach Them
When you are charged by the state, the prosecutor may allow you to plead to a lesser crime in exchange for a guilty plea. For federal cases, the facts are the facts. If you are convicted, the judge looks to the guidelines before issuing a sentence. The United States Department of Probation will conduct a pre-sentence investigation. It is based on federal sentencing guidelines and how they apply to your specific situation.
The judge is not bound by these guidelines and can give more or less time. For instance, if you have special family circumstances or have made payments towards restitution owed prior to sentencing, the judge may consider that and give you a lesser sentence. The professional criminal law attorney is going to argue for the best sentence possible. Your legal counsel should prepare for sentencing with you and should ensure that you are not unjustly categorized under the federal sentencing guidelines, but that any mitigating circumstances are presented to the court and are used in arguing for the least restrictive sentence possible.
At Puglisi Law, we want you to know you are not alone. If you have been charged with a crime, contact us to schedule a free consultation. Our attorneys will stand alongside you and fight on your behalf. Choose an attorney you can trust who has the experience to represent you properly.