A careful and competent attorney must always be aware of his/her client's sentencing exposure.
One of the most significant areas of federal practice is the structure and application of criminal sentencing.
In order to effectively represent a client, a lawyer must have a thorough knowledge of the federal sentencing scheme, a complex set of rules that guide federal judges in imposing a criminal sentence.
In 1984, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The Act became effective in 1987. Since then, federal sentencing has never been the same. The Act formed the United States Sentencing Commission as an arm of the judicial branch, acting independently, and reporting directly to Congress on revisions of sentencing policies.
Acting pursuant to the Act's authority, the Sentencing Commission issued the United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.).
The Guidelines is a complicated set of rules that first requires a finding of a “Base Offense Level.” Once a Base Offense Level is found, the defendant's Criminal History Category must be determined. The defendant's Criminal History Category is based on the individual's criminal record. Depending upon the criminal record, points are added up and the category is determined.
Once the Base Offense Level and Criminal History Category are found, the sentencing range, expressed in number of months, not years, is arrived at by using the following chart attached at the end of this page.
Since 1987, federal judges were required to sentence a defendant based on the sentencing range as determined by application of the Guidelines. That is to say, the Guidelines were mandatory. Then, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in United States v. Booker, that judges were to use the Guidelines on an advisory basis, as one of the elements in arriving at a sentence.
In today's sentencing world, then, a federal judge must look at other factors, other than just the Guidelines, in arriving at a sentence. These factors include:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense;
- The history and personal characteristics of the defendant;
- The need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment for the offense.
- the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparity, i.e., ensuring that the sentences for defendants committing the same offense and with like criminal history to be sentenced equally.
- The need for the sentence to achieve the purposes of sentencing, i.e., retribution, deterrence, public protection, and rehabilitation.
- The application of the Guidelines.
- The need to provide restitution to victims of the crime.
As is obvious from this discussion, federal sentencing is extremely complex, requiring a lawyer with a thorough understanding and proven ability and experience.
Our firm has extensive experience in federal sentencing, not only in the Central District of California (Pasadena) but throughout the United States.