How Does Federal Sentencing Work?
The federal sentencing guidelines are the rules that set the sentencing policy for defendants convicted of committing federal crimes under the United States Federal Court System. The guidelines were initially created in 1987. The guidelines have set out a clear calibration of sentences depending on the veracity of crime committed. It is the role of the judge to scrutinize the crimes committed and compare them with the guidelines provided to determine the sentencing for the defendant. These guidelines are however not mandatory. However, if a judge decides to use his or her own discretion instead of following the guidelines, he or she must explain what factors made him come to that decision. If it is a sentence increase or decrease, there must be a clear reason why it was done.
If you are convicted of a federal crime or someone close to you has been convicted either through a trial or pleading guilty, it is necessary to know how the sentence to be handed over will be arrived at. For a federal crime, judges must follow the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines are created by an independent commission known as the Sentencing Commission and set the sentencing that different federal crimes should carry. As a convict, it is important to understand the sentencing that you will probably get so that you can decide whether it is admissible or an appeal is required.
The federal sentencing guidelines were created after the Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 to create a standard sentencing manual that will be used by all judges. There was concern that judges from different jurisdictions where rendering too lenient and others too much sentencing. The manual award points depending on factors such as the defendants a criminal history, how the crime was committed, and the type of crime committed. A defendant who gets one point only is given the minimum sentencing of six months in jail, and one who grades the maximum 43 points automatically receives a life sentence. Although the guidelines are meant to be mandatory, some judges consider them too harsh or too rigid to be applied in practice.
The federal sentencing guidelines are therefore considered as advisory and not mandatory. What this means is that judges can consult the manual, but they do not have to impose a sentence based on it. Also, under the federal sentencing guidelines, a judge is not allowed to enhance a sentence. Enhancement is only permitted when the defendant accepts to have committed a crime, or a grand jury has verified that the charges were true. For instance, a judge may enhance sentencing for a defendant who confesses injuring a person in the process of committing another crime. In this case, the defendant must have agreed that the injury occurred or a jury concluded the defendant caused the injury.
When a federal judge is making considerations on the sentence to hand over to a convict, some factors need to be taken into account. What is the criminal record of the defendant? If a person has never been convicted in the past for criminal case, they are likely to get shorter sentencing. However, if the defendant has committed lots of crime in the past, the history will be used to hand over longer sentencing.
The judge must also look at the crime committed. For instance, if a defendant was involved in bank fraud, they will look at other cases involving fraud and they will try to show whether the current case is adverse or lenient.
The judges will also consider whether the defendant was convicted through trial or after a guilty plea. A different who has pleaded guilty is likely to enjoy a few points deducted based on the federal sentencing guidelines. However, if a crime affected many victims, the chances are that the judges will add the points resulting in longer sentencing. So as a defendant, you are supposed to work with a seasoned attorney who understands the basic framework of the law and will help you in getting the most deserved sentencing.
Appeal and withdraw of a guilty plea
Under the federal criminal system, a defendant is allowed to withdraw a guilty plea or even appeal a case after conviction. However, there are guidelines that must be observed when the courts are deciding whether to allow withdrawal of a guilty plea to happen. Such a move should be made within a short time after the guilty plea has been made and the defendant proves beyond reasonable doubt that the guilty plea was made out of an error. Factors such as the innocence of the defendant or a change in law are considered when a withdrawal of a guilty plea is being heard. For an appeal, the defendant must file a notice of appeal within ten days after conviction and then provide a written brief within 30 days. The prosecution will also have 30 days to respond to the appeal before the appellate judges start to hear the case.