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Federal Sentencing Guidelines and Penalties

Most white collar criminal investigations, if they result in indictment, are federal in nature. A conviction for a white collar crime can carry enormous legal, personal, and professional implications. The potential federal prison sentences and restitution amounts are more severe than similar charges in state courts. The issues related to federal sentencing guidelines and penalties in white collar cases are extremely complex and require an exhaustive knowledge of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG).

United States Sentencing Guidelines

The US Sentencing Guidelines were created by the United States Sentencing Commission. The Commission attempted to eliminate disparity in sentencing for the same offense in different courts across the country by establishing factors that are applied to calculate what is called an offense level. The offense level is used, along with a calculation of your prior criminal record, to establish a guidelines range on the Sentencing Table.

This is a grid that shows potential sentences in months of jail time for fraud and other crimes. The federal sentencing guidelines used to be mandatory; that is to say the judges had no discretion to sentence outside of the ranges in the Sentencing Table. In 2005, in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court held that the ranges were no longer mandatory.

Now, judges have to make a preliminary guideline calculation of criminal history and offense level. There are, however, other factors that they consider under a statute titled 18 U.S.C. Section 3553 (a). Those factors are:

1) The nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;

2) The need for the sentence imposed –

a) Judges reflect on the seriousness of the offense, the promotion of respect for the law, and providing just punishment for the offense;

b) To afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;

c) To protect the public from further crimes committed by the defendant; and

d) To provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;

3) The kinds of sentences available;

4) The kinds of sentence and the federal sentencing range established for –

a) The applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth in the guidelines…;

(5) Any pertinent policy statement.

Conviction Penalties in Federal Court

Usually, conviction for a federal crime will draw heavier penalties (and fines) than similar cases in state courts. This is because federal offenses fall within the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines which often call for extremely harsh periods of incarceration.

Although the sentencing guidelines are not binding on the judge, federal judges impose guideline range sentences almost 50 % of the time In addition to any fines that are levied, the Court may order you to reimburse the US Attorney’s office for the cost of their prosecution.

Some of the penalties that could be handed down to those convicted of the above listed crimes include:

  • Money laundering: If you are convicted for being involved in a money laundering scheme, you could be ordered to pay twice the value of the money laundered (up to $500,000) and be sentenced to serve a prison sentence based on any underlying felonies that accompany the money laundering charges (such as enterprise corruption, securities fraud or drug trafficking charges): [18 U.S.C Section 1956].
  • Tax evasion: A maximum fine of $100,000 to any individual, and $500,000 if the defendant is a corporation, and/or up to five years in federal prison.
  • Bank fraud: A fine of up to $1,000,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 30 years
  • Mail fraud: A maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years. If the scheme also involved a bank, the potential fine increases to up to $100,000: [18 U.S.C. Section 1343]
  • Wire fraud: A maximum prison sentence of up to 20 years. If the scheme also involved a bank, the potential fine increases to up to $100,000: [18 U.S.C. Section 1343]. The penalty for both wire fraud and mail fraud can increase to up to 30 years and a fine of $1,000,000 when the fraud involved a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency.
  • Securities fraud: The Court may order a large fine calculated based on the amount of money that was fraudulently obtained and/or a maximum period of incarceration of up to 25 years in prison: [18 U.S.C. Section 1348]
  • Healthcare fraud: A fine commensurate with the value of the amount of fraudulently received (or claimed) services and a prison term from a few years’ incarceration to life in prison.
  • Bankruptcy fraud: Up to five years in prison, forfeiture of assets and dismissal of the fraudulent bankruptcy petition with no leave to re-file it.
  • Firearm violations: Penalties can range from one to 30 years’ incarceration depending on the nature of the offense. Fines can be between $1,000 and $10,000: [18 U.S.C. Section 924].
  • Kidnapping: A prison sentence of 25 years to life, and if the victim is killed, the Court may impose a death sentence: [18. U.S.C. Section 3559].
  • Child Pornography: Depending on the circumstances of the crime, and whether you possessed the images with intent to distribute, or created the images that were then distributed, punishments can include a fine of up to $250,000 and a sentence ranging from five to 30 years in federal prison: [18 U.S.C Sections 2251 & 2252]
  • Drug trafficking: Five years to life in prison depending on the severity, the amount of the drugs possessed and the number of times you have previously been convicted for drug trafficking offenses. Fines can range from a few thousand dollars to millions if multiple associated drug traffickers are part of a continuing criminal enterprise: [18 U.S.C. Section 841]
  • Sex Tourism (travel by US citizens or permanent residents between states or overseas to have sex with a minor): Depending on the circumstances of the offense, if you are convicted of these crimes, you could face up to a $250,000 fine and/or up to 30 years’ incarceration: [18 U.S.C.Sections 2423; 2425 & 2426].
  • Human Trafficking: Depending on the actual age (and number) of the minor victim(s) who are transported, and the purpose for transport by the suspect, prison sentences can range from 10 years’ incarceration to life in prison, along with a large fine (also relative to the number of victims and the purpose of transport): [18 U.S.C. Section 1591].
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