When a judge has to make a decision about what kind of prison time he is going to be giving for a certain offense, he is not free to make any decision that he wants without consulting sentencing guidelines. These guidelines present a range of sentence lengths that should be given depending on the facts of the case. The judge has to take these into account.
In the end, a judge may decide not to follow the guidelines because of special circumstances in the case. The federal sentencing guidelines are not hard and fast rules that a judge has to abide to. This is because every case is different and a set of guidelines could not possibly account for all of the different nuances that might be present within a case
For a long time, drugs have been a hot issue in most political circles. It is clear that there are disagreements about the way that drug crimes are punished and what drugs should be made more allowable. In certain states, the legalization of marijuana has changed the way that drugs are viewed and what is actually a criminal amount of a drug to own.
More recently federal changes in the way that people are being sentenced for drug related crimes have made it so that many people could be released from prison early. Since federal drug crimes sentencing limits have gone down, many people could be looking at an average of two years off of their sentence. This is great news for some prisoners and for their families.
In April of this year the United States Sentencing Commission made a big change that will affect many convicts. They submitted an amendment that reduced the amount of prison time that would be standard for many drug trafficking charges. In July they added that this rule would be able to be imposed retroactively as well as in all future cases brought to sentencing.
What this means is that many convicts currently serving long prison sentences will be able to ask for a reduced sentence as a result of the change to the sentencing guidelines for drug trafficking. This amendment went into effect on the first of this month, making it so that many convicts can file for a reduction of sentence. This will likely result in reduced sentences for thousands of prisoners.
When federal sentencing was reshaped with the idea that it would be fairer for everyone if sentences were similar across the country, these sentencing guidelines were actually requirements. All sentences had to fall within the range of possible sentences offered for a certain offense. This meant that even if the sentence seemed too harsh for the specific case a judge would have to uphold it.
After the United States v. Booker Case in 2005, the federal sentencing guidelines took on an advisory role. Judges are still required to consider the guidelines and make a calculation based on the facts of the case, but they are able to change the sentence to make sure that the punishment is one that is right. In some cases, this may be something less than the one in the guidelines.
It used to be that when someone was convicted of a crime a judge was able to set any sentence that seemed fit. This causes a large discrepancy between the way that a crime was treated in one part of the country to how it was treated in another part of the country. Since this didn’t really seem fair, the government decided to look more closely at how sentencing worked.
Now judges don’t get to decide a sentence without basing it upon sentencing guidelines that are set by the federal court. These guidelines usually specify a range of sentences dependent upon the severity of the crime. For example someone could serve anywhere from 21 to 27 months in jail, but how many they’d be sentenced to would be based on specifics of the case.
When it comes to predicting what a sentence will be for a specific crime, it can be very difficult. When a judge has determined that someone is guilty, the particular sentence can still vary greatly. This is because many individual details of a case can make it worthy of a higher or lower sentence. No two cases are exactly the same so sentencing can be difficult to predict.
When a judge assigns a sentence, they use federal sentencing guidelines that take into account different facts of the case to give the judge some idea of what the sentence should be. These guidelines give them a range of sentencing options. The judge then must take into account the individual facts of a case to determine where in the range the sentence should fall.
Since judges are human beings, rather than any kind of true impartial force, the government lays down some advice on how sentences should look for different crimes. This is a way to make it so that someone charged with assault in one area does not get a much higher sentence than someone charged in a different area. The idea is that similar levels of crime receive similar sentences.
While judges have to adhere to some sentencing guidelines, the guidelines usually include a range of years to be served in prison or a range of fines. There are many provisions that can be used to help a defendant receive a lower sentence based on the specific situation. Getting the legal research needed to ask for this sentence can mean you’re out of jail a lot sooner.
Due to prison overcrowding and changes in the justice system the way that federal drug crimes are processed has changed considerably. As an example, sentences for cocaine possession and sale used to be much longer than they are currently. This means that there are people in jail from this time period who under new laws would have served a shorter sentence.
Since there have been changes in federal drug crimes sentencing over time, inmates who are currently serving a sentence longer than what present law would require can ask for resentencing and sentence reduction. In many cases this will be granted, especially when the person asking for sentence reduction does not appear to be a direct threat to other people.
In 1984 Congress passed an act that made it so there were specific guidelines for how a person could be sentenced for a crime. Prior to this point in time, there was a lot of concern that judges in different parts of the country were being too lenient or too strict when it came to sentencing. Congress decided to make a set manual that could be used when sentencing people.
Federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence based on the type of offense, the history of a defendant, and how the crime was committed. These are still only guidelines of course. Judges may still decide to give a more lenient sentence based on factors that are presented to them. This decision must be seen as reasonable in response to the individual factors of a case.
Often, NLPA is contacted by attorneys who represent federal criminal defendants who are in need of sentencing assistance, given the wide array of arguments that can be made in favor of sentences below what is called for by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The case of United States v. Freddie Wilson, Jr., case number 4:11-cr-02161-TLW-14 demonstrates how NLPA can assist counsel in the preparation of multi-faceted sentencing research that challenges the Sentencing Guidelines recommended, as well as presents mitigating arguments for a lesser sentence.
Facing such a long sentence, and needing assistance in the preparation of research challenging the harsh Guideline sentence, Mr. Wilson contacted NLPA to conduct research upon possible means to avoid an unduly harsh sentence.
NLPA conducted research on the potential sentence faced by Mr. Wilson, as well as the possibility of avoiding the harsh sentence put forth in the PSR, in conjunction with Mr. Wilson’s attorney, Joseph N. Connell, who was appointed to represent Mr. Wilson.
These factors include: the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant; the need to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense; the need for deterrence; the need to protect the public; the need to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training or medical care; the kinds of sentences available; the Sentencing Guidelines range; pertinent policy statements of the Sentencing Commission; the need to avoid unwanted sentencing disparities; and the need to provide restitution to victims.
Based upon a combination of all of the above factors, the district court for the District of South Carolina issued a below Guidelines sentence to Mr. Wilson. As a result, Mr. Wilson received a sentence of 41 months incarceration. Such represented a sentence almost two years below the minimum recommended Sentencing Guidelines.
The bottom line is that just because an individual faces overwhelming Sentencing Guidelines does not mean that all attempts at securing a lesser sentence must be abandoned in deference to the Probation Office or the federal prosecutor.
From challenging the procedural mechanisms of imposing a Guideline sentence to arguing the lack of factual support for sentencing enhancements to presenting mitigating arguments, NLPA has been at the forefront of attacking insidious and unfair sentences.
To learn more about obtaining a federal sentence reduction or additional services provided by NLPA, contact us today.