Facing a federal charge in Virginia? Here’s what you need to know about how federal cases are sentenced in court. For information on your case and the specific penalties you may be facing, call and schedule a consultation with a Virginia white collar criminal defense attorney today.
Federal sentencing is almost always determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are essentially a series of worksheets that calculate the number of points associated with each offense. The worksheets have separate parts that calculate the number of points applied based on the offense committed.
There is also a section where points are added or subtracted based on someone’s particular role in the offense, whether that be an enhanced role or a mitigating role. Points may also be subtracted if the person cooperated with the prosecution or perhaps testified in another case.
Eventually the worksheet results in a level. Naturally each person being sentenced wants the level to come out as low as possible. However, then an individual’s criminal history is calculated and a level is assigned for that piece.
At the very end there is a simplified table that compares your level number and your criminal history number and after matching the two in the middle, the resulting number is the recommended range of punishment that represents the number of months for the sentencing.
One of the primary factors considered in sentencing is the actual offense. Each offense has a certain score under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, so once the offense is determined, it is scored. Variables exist, however, a common one is the loss amount in fraud or tax evasion cases, or any kind of case that involves money.
In these cases there is a sliding scale of severity based upon how much money the government alleges was taken, misappropriated, paid in bribes, or otherwise used illegally. The higher the dollar value, the higher the level will be.
Another primary factor in drug cases that we frequently handle is the amount of the drugs and the weight of the substances found, combined with the type of drug and its assigned level. For example, 40 grams of cocaine is going to be sentenced far less than 40 kilograms of cocaine. Those are the two really important things to understand when talking about sentencing factors.
Other sentencing factors deal with whether someone has cooperated with the government, whether they were involved in a scheme or offense that involved multiple defendants, and adjustments to the level based on whether their role is either enhanced or lighter role.
It is different because although Virginia also uses sentencing guidelines, they are very different guidelines. Virginia considers different factors including:
However, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are much more complicated and nuanced than the state guidelines. The state guidelines are fairly straightforward. For example, the examination of aggravating or mitigating factors can create a good deal of gray area. This type of issue does not exist in the Virginia sentencing guidelines, only in the federal guidelines.
Every factor considered when determining a person’s level is subject to debate. For example, whether the person had an enhanced role or a lighter role in the offense can certainly be argued, and the sentencing guidelines contain notes and guidance as to exactly what sorts of factors are considered when determining whether or not to enhance levels or reduce.
This takes some experience, because these cases are nuanced and complicated. A small consideration here or there can change the dynamics of how the sentencing guidelines are calculated, so having someone with experience and knowledge in this area is important.