Federal Sentencing Guidelines Influence Defendants
Federal Sentencing Guidelines: How will they influence you?
Federal Sentencing Guidelines influence the sentence a defendant receives. Anyone who has been charged with a
federal crime should learn the role that federal sentencing guidelines play during the sentencing hearing. A sentence mitigation expert will collaborate with both the defense attorney and the defendant in creating a narrative that mitigates some of the accusations that overzealous prosecutors make.
Prior to the introduction of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, judges had discretion. Sentencing laws allowed judges to sentence defendants anywhere within the limits established by statute. In most cases, those sentences had enormous variances, from probation to 40 years in prison. Judges in one jurisdiction would sentence defendants for a specific crime to a term of probation in one part of the country, while judges in another part of the country would sentence a defendant to multiple decades in prison for the same type of crime. In an effort to bring more “fairness in sentencing,” Congress initiated the new sentencing legislation in 1984.
History of Federal Sentencing Guidelines:
Judges began applying the Federal Sentencing Guidelines when sentencing defendants who were convicted of crimes that occurred after November 1, 1987. That became the start of our era in “determinate sentencing.” Determinate sentencing laws had enormous implications on our system of justice:
- Federal Sentencing Guidelines led to more people going to prison for longer sentences.
- With less good time available, Federal Sentencing Guidelines resulted in people serving longer sentences.
- With fewer release valves, Federal Sentencing Guidelines meant that fewer people were released from prison.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines narrowed the sentencing range for judges. Even if a judge believed that the guideline range was too severe, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines required a specific sentence. Sentencing laws began to change again about a decade ago, when a series of Supreme Court decisions resulted in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines becoming more “advisory” than mandatory.
Sentencing Mitigation Expert:
With judicial rulings from the US Supreme Court over the past decade, the role of sentencing mitigation experts became crucial to an effective defense strategy. Rather than strictly focusing on guilt or innocence, the concept of influencing the sentence grew in importance. While prosecutors would paint a horrid picture that showed the defendant as being deserving of a sentence at the height of the federal sentencing guidelines, a sentence mitigation expert could counter. The sentence mitigation expert would create a package to show the good work that a defendant has done in the community. Defense attorneys could then argue more effectively for the lowest possible sentence. An effective sentence-mitigation package would provide the judge with a more comprehensive view of the defendant, showing the individual as much more than the criminal charge.
Since federal sentencing guidelines have become “advisory” rather than “mandatory,” every criminal defendant should work with a sentence mitigation expert. If a defendant cannot afford to retain an expert for the time and resources necessary to create an effective package, the defendant should learn how he can work independently to write his own sentencing package.