How do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work?
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a uniform set of rules that apply to both individuals and organizations convicted of serious federal crimes. The penalty recommended by the guidelines varies depending on three factors: the offense level, the defendant’s criminal history, and the sentencing zone. Under the system, there are 43 offense levels, which are determined based on the severity of the crime. For most white-collar crimes, the offense level is based purely on the alleged loss to the victim, not on culpability or any other factor. The criminal history of a defendant also factors into sentencing recommendations; there are six categories, based on a complicated point system that takes into account any prior sentences. Those who have been convicted and sentenced in the past will receive less leniency than first-time offenders. Finally, a sentence under the guidelines will be impacted by which zone it is classified under. There are four possible zones, with Zone A carrying the lightest penalty of 0-6 months in prison, and with Zone D carrying the harshest penalties, starting with minimums of one year and going up to life in prison.
Advocacy Efforts to Reform White-Collar Sentencing
Defense attorneys around the country have been consistently calling for reform to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for white collar crime. Advocates argue that the guidelines inflict injustice on their clients, because they don’t reflect important factors in the case, such as intent, character, or culpability. None of the aspects of culpability that usually are of the utmost importance in criminal cases, including harm, motive, mitigating circumstances, have any bearing on the sentencing guidelines. Penalties are assessed on the basis of one central factor: the monetary loss to the alleged victim. Prior conduct and specific offense characteristics can shift the sentence up or down. This is meant to be an objective and efficient way to mete out punishment, but it has resulted in injustice in countless cases. The Department of Justice has admitted that the sentencing guidelines have lost the respect of many federal judges because they seek to replace a human judge with a math equation.
Furthermore, the sentencing guidelines need reform because the risk of being sentenced for years or decades in prison prevents defendants from exercising their right to a trial under the Sixth Amendment. All defendants are guaranteed right to have a neutral, third party review the evidence and facts, but the threat of disproportionately long sentences forces most defendants to forego their right to a trial.
In response to the growing tide of opposition against draconian sentencing guidelines, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed a new policy that would reduce sentences relating to fraud by 26 percent. Many judges view the current fraud sentencing guidelines as unfair and give lower sentences than recommended by the guidelines.
An Attorney Who Will Fight for You
If you are facing charges for a white collar crime, you need a dedicated and experienced criminal defense attorney who knows the federal sentencing guidelines inside and out. Contact South Florida attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. for a consultation with a white collar defense lawyer who will not rest until you have the lowest possible sentence.