How Do The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work In Fraud Cases?

For people who are facing fraud charges in federal court, knowing what the possible sentence could be is very important. In the federal system, judges are required to look at and consider the federal sentencing guidelines.

In this short video, federal criminal defense attorney Matt Kaiser explains how the sentencing guidelines work in federal fraud cases.

Video Transcript:

If you have been convicted of a fraud crime in Federal Court or a loved one has been convicted of a fraud crime in Federal Court, you are likely interested in how the judge will determine the sentence. One of the big things that the judge will look at are the sentencing guidelines. I would like to explain a little but about how the sentencing guidelines work for fraud cases in particular.

First, the sentencing guidelines for fraud are really getting quite crazy. After Enron, many people in the government were concerned that people who committed white collar crimes were getting off easy. As a result they really ratcheted up the law as it relates to fraud and the amounts of time people spend in prison if they are convicted of a white collar crime or a fraud crime. So as a result now you can see a guidelines calculation in a fraud crime that could call for a sentence that’s as high as the sentence called for a kidnapping or an arson. It's really a remarkable example of how this part of the federal sentencing world has lost perspective. Fortunately some judges were recognizing that, unfortunately some judges aren’t.

The guidelines calculation in a fraud case would be determined by a couple of things.

First the loss amount will be very important. If the loss amount is more than a million dollars then, for a run of the mill fraud case, that’s going to call for a sentence of more than three years, almost every time. Loss is very important. For fraud guidelines purposes, keep in mind that loss is not the amount of money you made or the amount of money the other people lost. Rather, it's the amount of money that someone in that situation could have seen the victims losing. It's the “reasonably foreseeable loss” – that’s the language of the guidelines – and it can get quite far away from any amount that anyone made.

The next thing that the guidelines looked at are a number of characteristics about the crime. If there were a lot of victims, if you were in a position of trust that you abused in order to make the fraud work, those things can enhance the sentence that the sentencing guidelines call for under the fraud guidelines.