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Understanding the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Federal Sentencing Hearing Pointers

If you plead guilty or are found guilty, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing.

Prior to your sentencing hearing, the court will order that a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. Sentencing guidelines, which are law, will be used to determine your sentence.

What Determines How Severe My Sentence Will Be?

Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the severity of the offense and the extent of your criminal history will largely dictate the sentence you receive.

In some cases, your criminal history alone may be the key factor. Federal law mandates severe sentences for persons with certain types of prior convictions. As you can see, your criminal record may play a significant role in your decision to plead guilty or go to trial.  You should also be aware of the fact that the crime for which you are convicted may have very specific sentencing guidelines.

Should I Plead Guilty or Go to Trial?

Your sentence also will depend, in part, on whether your decision was to plead guilty or go to trial. The decision to plead guilty or go to trial is a critical decision in your case. You must discuss the application of the guidelines with your attorney to ensure that your decision is a fully informed decision.

What happens at the Sentencing Hearing?

Your attorney will get a copy of the PSR, and you will have an opportunity to review it for accuracy before you are sentenced.

You will have an opportunity to speak to the judge at your sentencing hearing. If you would like to speak with the judge at the hearing, you should discuss that with your attorney well before your actual hearing. Do not wait until the day of the sentencing to make this important decision.

The District Court Judge also will give your attorney and, perhaps, other interested persons an opportunity to speak on your behalf. Friends, colleagues, or family members also may choose to write a letter to the sentencing judge on your behalf.

Any letters provided on your behalf should be sent directly to your attorney who will present them to the court.

Let your attorney or investigator know well in advance of sentencing the names and addresses of the people you believe will want to write or speak on your behalf at sentencing.

Remember: you may seriously jeopardize your case if anything presented by you or your witnesses appears to be untrue or conflicts with the PSR and cannot be satisfactorily explained.

It is extremely important that you provide accurate information.

Possible Federal Penalties

  • Prison Time/confinement in a federal prison, which is controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.)
  • Although rare, probation
  • Fines

If you are sentenced to prison time, you may be placed in any institution in the U.S.  Although the B.O.P. tries to place most people as close to their home state as possible, many factors are involved in assigning the place of confinement.

Such factors include:

Parole has been abolished in the federal system. Sentence reductions for good conduct in prison are limited. If sentenced to prison, you can expect to serve at least 85% of your sentence.

If you are given a sentence of imprisonment, you should be prepared to begin serving it immediately.

Supervised release also must be imposed when you are given a prison sentence. When you are released from jail, you will be under the court’s supervision for several years. If you violate the conditions of your supervised release, you can be sentenced to an additional jail term. You also can lose all credit for “street time” spent while on supervised release.

Located in Columbia, South Carolina, the criminal defense lawyers at the Strom Law Firm, LLC have the experience and background necessary to provide aggressive legal representation that can help you avoid jail time and other criminal penalties.  Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case.

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