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Understand The Basics About Sentencing In A Federal Criminal Case

Sentencing in a federal criminal case is a crucial stage of the criminal justice process. For most cases, the pre-sentence investigation and the report prepared by the federal probation office coupled with the sentencing hearing conducted by the judge are the primary means for determining the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.

Ann Fitz is an attorney who is knowledgeable about the U.S. federal sentencing guidelines. With her 18 years of experience handling a range of complex federal cases, she is skilled in making mitigating arguments at sentencing hearings. She has practiced in Florida, Georgia and California and is highly respected and recognized by her peers and clients. She creates detail-oriented and individualized defense strategies and carefully assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the government’s allegations to seek dismissal or a better outcome. Ms. Fitz is equipped to fight for the lowest sentence possible if you have been convicted of a federal criminal offense.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Defined

The federal sentencing guidelines are a set of rules that determine what the sentence should be based on the category of the crime or offense along with various aggravating and mitigating factors. Each applicable rule assesses points to be added or subtracted to reach a final number, known as the level of offense, that corresponds with a range of months as set forth in the sentencing table.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Booker in 2005, the federal sentencing guidelines were considered mandatory, meaning that the judge had to sentence a defendant within the range that corresponded with the offense level determined by the guidelines. Today, the determination of the offense level under the federal sentencing guidelines is considered to be advisory and is the first – not final – step in determining what a reasonable sentence should be.

There are many arguments that federal criminal defense attorney Ann Fitz can make to persuade the judge to impose a sentence below the advisory guidelines range. She will develop an effective strategy for doing so through an individualized analysis of your case.

The Pre-Sentence Investigation

If the jury or judge finds the defendant guilty of at least one count charged in the indictment, or if the defendant enters into a negotiated guilty plea, the court will impose some sentence on the defendant. But before the sentencing hearing is held, a probation officer will conduct a background investigation. The probation officer will investigate any aggravating and mitigating factors present in the case and will prepare a pre-sentence report summarizing those factors for the judge.

Most reports contain a variety of information that may be helpful to the court, for example, information about the defendant’s prior criminal record, personal characteristics, financial condition, social history, and circumstances affecting his or her behavior, as well as information regarding the effect of the crime on the victim.

The Parties’ Arguments And The Defendant’s Right Of Allocution

During the sentencing hearing, the attorneys for the government and the defense have the opportunity to make legal arguments challenging the probation officer’s determination of the guidelines range and for the imposition of a sentence below the applicable guidelines range. The parties’ arguments usually involve an analysis of 18 U.S.C. §3553(a), which sets forth factors the judge must consider in imposing a sentence. This law requires the district court to “impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, “to comply with the need for the sentence” to:

  • Reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment for the offense
  • Afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct
  • Protect the public from further crime by the defendant
  • Provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner

The defendant has the right to be present for sentencing and may make a statement before the judge imposes a sentence.

The Imposition Of The Sentence

After hearing from the parties, the court may sentence the defendant to imprisonment, probation, community service, or another such program. If a defendant is imprisoned, the defendant will also be placed on a period of post-release supervision. The court also can fine the defendant or order the defendant to pay restitution. Restitution is a monetary payment made by a defendant to the victim to compensate the victim for the financial harm caused by the crime. In some cases, restitution is a mandatory component of the sentence, and the judge must order the defendant to pay it.

The United States Sentencing Commission

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan, independent agency located in the judicial branch of government and publishes the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines used by federal judges to sentence criminal defendants. The guidelines are amended on a continuing basis to account for changes in the law and every year a new guidelines manual is published.

Learn What You Need To Know About Federal Sentences

If you are facing sentencing for federal criminal charges, you need an attorney with a record of proven success. Federal criminal defense attorney Ann Fitz has the experience and strategic abilities to get your prison sentence reduced or argue for all other possible sentencing alternatives.

Call her firm today at 561-932-1690 or send an email inquiry to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case.