How Does Federal Sentencing Work?

Video Transcript:

If you've been convicted of a federal crime or if you have a loved one who has been convicted of a federal crime, either by pleading guilty or after trial, what you want to know you is how that sentence, the federal sentence, is going to be determined. So here’s a quick overview of that.

One thing that'll be very important are the federal sentencing guidelines. It's a book that's put out by an independent commission, the sentencing commission, that sets a range of imprisonment for each federal crime and for each person who commits a crime. It'll be very important to work on and figure out what that range will be. It's something that the judge will look at.

The second thing is the judge doesn't have to follow the recommendation of the guidelines. The judge can impose whatever sentence that the he or she wants to. And the judge is required to look at a number of factors, to look at you as a person, to look at what happened and why it happened, to look at how people were harmed by the crime, and you need to have a lawyer who is working with you and explaining the factors to you so that you can convince the judge of the lowest sentence possible.

What I find in my experience judges really look at, what judges really want to know is, “How did this happen?” and more importantly, “How do I impose a sentence, how do I impose some kind of punishment here that's going to keep it from happening again.”

So, when you're preparing for sentencing it's important to start thinking about how to be answered that question, even if it's an unasked question in the judge's mind, so that you can get the lowest sentence possible after being convicted of a federal crime.