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Understanding Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Eisenhauer Law Nov. 9, 2023

Facing any criminal charge can be overwhelming and have life-changing consequences. If you find yourself facing possible legal issues due to being accused of a federal crime, it is essential that you understand your rights, as well as the process. Do not face this without the support of a professional, knowledgeable, and skilled federal crimes attorney.  

At Eisenhauer Law, we navigate the intricate world of federal sentencing guidelines daily. These guidelines play a pivotal role in shaping our clients' futures, so understanding them is crucial. If you are in the St. Louis, Missouri, area—including St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County, and more—get in touch with us today. We will help you understand sentencing guidelines, including what these guidelines are, how they work, and the factors considered when applying them.  

What Are Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

Federal sentencing guidelines are a set of rules that guide the sentencing process for individuals convicted of federal crimes. They're designed to foster consistency and fairness across all federal courts. The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency within the judicial branch, is responsible for establishing and periodically revising these guidelines. The commission is composed of seven members, including federal judges, a probation officer, a defense attorney, a federal prosecutor, and professionals in the fields of law enforcement and penology. They work collectively to ensure these guidelines reflect the evolving nature of our justice system. 

How Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work

When an individual is convicted of a federal crime, the judge refers to the federal sentencing guidelines to determine the appropriate punishment. These guidelines take into account various factors, such as the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. 

The guidelines use a point system to calculate a recommended sentencing range. Points are assigned based on the offense level, the specific characteristics of the crime, and the defendant's criminal history category. 

Once the offense level and criminal history category are determined, the judge consults the sentencing table to find the recommended sentencing range. While this range provides a guideline, the judge has the discretion to sentence within this range or depart from it based on certain factors, such as the defendant's cooperation with law enforcement or acceptance of responsibility. 

Factors Considered in Federal Sentencing

In determining a sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines, various factors come into play. These include: 

  • the nature and circumstances of the offense, 

  • the defendant's role in it,  

  • their criminal history,  

  • any aggravating or mitigating factors,  

  • victim impact,  

  • restitution,  

  • the defendant's acceptance of responsibility,  

  • and their cooperation with law enforcement.  

Each of these considerations helps the judge assess the appropriate punishment, tailoring it to the specific circumstances of the case. Your criminal defense attorney will help you understand the factors of your case, as well as guide you through the whole sentencing process.  

The Federal Sentencing Process

The federal sentencing process commences once a defendant is convicted of a federal crime, either through a plea agreement or a jury verdict.  

  1. Pre-Sentencing. The first step involves the pre-sentence investigation, conducted by a probation officer, to gather detailed information about the defendant and the offense. This investigation results in a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR), which includes relevant facts about the defendant's background, the crime, and victim impact statements, along with a preliminary sentencing guideline calculation. 

  1. Reviewals & Disputes. Following the completion of the PSR, both the prosecution and defense have an opportunity to review and dispute its findings. If there are disputes, the judge may hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve them. 

  1. Determining the Final Sentence. Once disputes, if any, are settled, the judge, taking into consideration the federal sentencing guidelines, the PSR, and arguments from both parties, determines the final sentence. Although the judge has the discretion to depart from the sentencing guidelines, such departures must be well justified. The sentence can include imprisonment, fines, restitution, supervised release, or a combination of these. 

The final step is the sentencing hearing, where the judge announces the sentence. The defendant has the right to speak on their own behalf at this hearing. After sentencing, the defendant has the right to appeal the conviction or the sentence, and if an appeal is filed, the case will move to the appellate courts. 

The Role of a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

At Eisenhauer Law, our role as your federal criminal defense attorney is critical in navigating these guidelines and advocating for the best possible outcome for our clients. We understand these guidelines thoroughly and can effectively argue for a fair and just sentence. 

We analyze the specific facts of each case, assess the applicable guidelines, and identify any potential mitigating factors that may warrant a departure from the recommended sentencing range. During sentencing hearings, we present compelling evidence and arguments to persuade the judge to impose a lenient sentence. 

Moreover, we negotiate plea agreements with federal prosecutors, which could result in reduced charges or a more favorable sentencing recommendation. We're there every step of the way, ensuring our clients' rights are protected and their voices are heard. After all, at Eisenhauer Law, we believe in fighting tirelessly for those we represent. If you’re in the St. Louis, Missouri, area and in need of legal guidance, reach out to us—we are here for you.