The Federal sentencing guidelines were created some thirty years ago in response to a reaction by Congress to what they perceived to be disparate sentencing results in various courts across the country.
When the guidelines originated, there was a significant backlash against federal judges who were seen as sentencing too lightly in certain kinds of cases. The belief was that justice required uniformity in sentencing across all federal districts so that a judge in California would sentence a person charged with a certain crime the same way that a judge in Virginia would sentence that same crime committed by a different person.
There are many factors that play a role in federal sentencing, the most important of which is the charge for which someone was convicted. After that, the other variables associated with the conviction are given consideration.
For example, a significant lost amount that could increase the guideline recommendation, whether the defendant is accused of playing the significant role in the offense when there are multiple defendants, whether the person cooperated with the government, or whether the person took responsibility by pleading guilty. All of these are factors can increase or decrease the offense level that ultimately results in the guideline recommendation.
Aggravating factors, the principal ones that most people need to worry about in financial cases, are the loss amount. The higher the loss amount (meaning the amount of money taken, defrauded, or involved) can increase the guidelines by a wide mark. In many cases, the loss amount can be subject to some debate. In some cases, the argument could be made that this particular defendant if involved in a criminal enterprise with other people should only be associated with a small amount of the overall loss.
Similarly, in drug cases, the more weight involved in the conviction, the higher the guidelines. Again, if a person is involved in a criminal enterprise involving multiple defendants, there are certain instances where the arguments can be made that defendant should not be held liable for the entirety of the weight associated with that criminal enterprise.
In every case, Virginia federal criminal defense attorneys are presented with the probation officer’s version of the sentencing guidelines. Based upon those calculations, the attorney can object to various factors or increases that the probation officer deemed appropriate when compiling the guidelines. The opportunity exists to object to these things and judges will listen.
In many cases where guidelines are adjusted upwards and against the defendant, there is a body of law, including case law and other commentary by the guideline commission, attorneys can draw from in crafting arguments against the increases proposed by the probation officer.
Simply put, the guidelines are very complicated. There are seminars put on exclusively for lawyers and also probation officers to train them in how to compute the guideline. These seminars are day long seminars and even seasoned probation officers whose principal job it is to compile these things can have issues, concerns, and questions about various issues involving the guidelines. There are a lot of gray areas, but a Virginia federal criminal attorney who is familiar with the guidelines will be able to navigate them with more finesse than a lawyer who has never dealt with them before.
Employing an attorney to represent you in a federal case that’s involves sentencing guidelines requires that attorney to have a deep understanding of how they work. Even a very seasoned state lawyer who doesn’t dabble in federal work will likely have significant issues trying to understand the federal guidelines.