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How does federal sentencing work?

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2023 | Federal Crimes

Facing a federal criminal charge will mean that you are subject to federal sentencing rules. The federal criminal court process has a reputation for being quite strict, with certain kinds of offenses resulting in mandatory minimum sentences that may include a lengthy jail sentence.

It is common for people to worry about what will happen during a federal sentencing hearing. Typically, something occurs several weeks, if not several months, after a defendant enters a plea or has a criminal trial. Most people can expect to wait at least 90 days, if not longer, for a sentencing hearing.

The recently-convicted defendant will therefore have plenty of time to worry about the sentence the judge will impose. What can you expect during a sentencing hearing?

The judge has to abide by complex guidelines

The federal sentencing guidelines are anything but straightforward. There are actually 43 different degrees of severity for federal criminal charges, and the judge must determine exactly what rules apply given the circumstances that led to someone’s prosecution.

Despite needing to comply with sentencing requirements, judges do have quite a bit of discretion regarding what they ultimately determine would be the appropriate sentence. The judge will have access to presentence investigations that include information about you as a person, information about the victim and details about the offense that occurred.

During the hearing, the judge will communicate with your lawyer, the prosecutor and sometimes directly with you or the victim. The U.S. Attorney involved in your prosecution may attempt one more time to sway the judge to ask for a harsher sentence that deviates from the standard in cases such as yours. You may also have a chance to speak or to bring people in to speak on your behalf, including mental health professionals and family members.

The judge will then sentence you to jail time, fines, probation, community service and possibly rehabilitation services for substance abuse or mental health issues. Putting your best foot forward is crucial at every point during the criminal court process but especially during the sentencing hearing. With the right support and a proper plan, you can potentially minimize the sentence handed down by the judge in response to the criminal accusations against you.

Making sense of what happens during federal criminal court proceedings can help you prepare the best strategy.