Sentencing Guideline Adjustments

Federal Sentencing Guideline Adjustments

Criminal History in relation to the offense level: According to the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, federal crimes can be classified into 43 offense categories. The offense level is matched up with the Criminal History Category (there are six different history categories) to determine sentencing. To find a recommended prison sentence, a judge simply cross-references the offense level with the Criminal History.

For instance, an offender who commits a level 16 offense and who has a Criminal History of IV, according to the table, should get 33 to 41 months behind bars, all things being equal. Of course, when you hire a seasoned federal criminal defense attorney, you put yourself in a position to receive the lowest possible sentence. 

There is federal case law that permits the sentencing judge in a federal case to go below the applicable guideline range.  Our Los Angeles-based federal criminal defense firm has the experience, expertise, and abilities to reduce your sentence to the lowest possible in Los Angeles federal court and across the Nation.

Determining the level of offense:

A base-level offense is set by the United States Sentencing Commission to stress the seriousness of a crime. One of the highest levels of crime is first-degree murder, which has a base level of 43. One of the lowest levels of crimes is infringing on a copyright, which has a level of 9.

The range of these numbers is calculated first, according to USSC. Then, other variables are accounted to lower or raise the number. For example, trespass has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32.

These variables can be argued in your favor by a skilled federal criminal defense attorney who has handled federal cases in the jurisdiction your case is pending.  We successfully handled many cases in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the Nation over many years of federal criminal defense practice.

Mitigating Factors –

Sentences can also be adjusted based on numerous factors, such as:
• Whether a vulnerable victim was harmed during the commission of the crime.
• Whether the defendant played a major or minor role. Ringleaders can face elevated offense levels;  minor contributors can get lower offense levels.
• Whether the defendant cooperated with prosecutors or obstructed justice. Obstructing can get your offense level bumped up; cooperating can knock it down (Acceptance of Responsibility).

Few people in the position of defendants realize that the sentencing table recommends a prison sentence and zone category.  Zones have to do with probation. If your offense falls into Zone A, for instance, you can get straight probation. If your offense falls into Zone C, on the other hand, you may be eligible for probation, but you, at minimum, have to serve half of your sentence in prison; meaning, if you are eligible for probation, you do not even have to serve the full statutory minimum sentence.

Mandatory Minimum

A mandatory minimum is a sentence created by Congress or a state legislature, which the court must give to a person convicted of a crime, no matter what the unique circumstances of the offender or offenses are.

Safety Valve

A “safety valve” is one of the only ways out of a mandatory minimum sentence. Safety valves are laws created by Congress or state legislature that let courts give an offender less time in prison than the mandatory minimum sentence requires.

The federal safety valve applies to only a certain type of drug offenders and is a strict five-part test and if all five requirements are met, the court must sentence a person below the mandatory minimum, generally by using the federal sentencing guidelines to create a sentence that fits the offender and his crime.

The five requirements:

  1. no one was harmed during the offense
  2. the offender has little or no history of criminal convictions
  3. the offender did not use violence or guns
  4. the offender was not a leader or organizer of the offense
  5. the offender told the prosecutor all that they know about the offense

Safety valves have many benefits. Safety valves give courts the flexibility to prevent unjust sentences; save taxpayers money; and protect public safety (people do not get more prison time than they deserve).

As to some drug offenses,  a 2002 federal Justice Department report said that mandatory minimums “do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost-effective than lengthy prison terms.”

Sending people to prison on the pretense of deterring crime is futile, ineffective, and counterproductive. Don't be a victim of unfair sentencing.

Receiving a Lower Sentence

Is There a Way to Receive a Lower Sentence in a Case With a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?

The short answer to the question is yes! However, it is not common or easy to receive a sentence below a mandatory minimum sentence proscribed by a statute in a federal criminal case. Below are examples of cases where going below a mandatory minimum sentence was warranted. The key is to hire an attorney who will fight to obtain the best possible result for you!

Often, the mandatory sentences imposed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines can be too harsh, unjust, and unfair. Every case is looked at separately. It must be determined whether the sentence imposed by the guidelines is greater than necessary and can not be justified in a civilized society.

United States v. Redemann, 295 F. Supp. 2d 887 (E.D. Wisc. 2003) held that if the sentence imposed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would result in punishment that is greater than necessary to satisfy the purposes of sentencing, then the court may depart downward

Some other cases where going below the mandatory sentence was warranted are:

U.S. v. Vigil, 476 F.Supp.2d 1231(D.N.M. 2007)

The defendant was convicted of attempted extortion. The sentencing guideline for this offense has a range of 235-240 months of imprisonment, warranting a downward departure. In the defendant's case, the sentencing guideline would run the risk of being perceived as draconian, would overstate the seriousness of the offense, and would seem as disregarding the jury's verdict, giving too much effect to the conduct for which the defendant was acquitted, and being unjust. A lesser sentence would still promote respect for the law and provide a deterrence.

U.S. v. Leroy, 373 F.Supp.2d 887 (E.D. Wisc. 2005)

The defendant was convicted of possession with intent to distribute an undetermined amount of cocaine base. The Federal Sentencing Guideline sentence for this conviction is 100 to 125 months, but due to specific circumstances and the defendant's positive personal qualities, a sentence of 70 months was imposed.

U.S. v. Jones, 352 F.Supp.2d 22 (D. Me., 2005)

A mentally ill defendant was convicted of possessing a firearm, and sentencing guidelines are 12 to 18 months with no downward departures available. Since Federal Sentencing Guidelines are only advisory, The Court imposed a 6-month sentence on the defendant so that he can continue medical care and treatment in an effective manner. A lower sentence was in the best interest of the defendant and the public.

Crime Outside Heartland of Guideline

If your conduct was atypical and outside the heartland of the guideline, we may be able to get you a lower sentence than the mandatory minimum.

As your federal criminal lawyer in Los Angeles, we will thoroughly and carefully examine all the details of your case and determine whether the imposed sentence is too harsh for the criminal conduct you are being charged with.

Determining whether the defendant's conduct was outside the heartland of the Sentencing Guidelines is within the discretion of the district attorney. The Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) is to consider the nature of the offense in conjunction with other factors, such as the defendant's individual characteristics.

In a 2002 federal case, U.S .v. Parish, 308 F.3d 1025, the defendant was granted an eight-level downward departure in a child porn case because the defendant's possession of the photographs was outside the heartland of the much more serious criminal conduct the typical pornographer engages in, according to a psychiatrist. In another case, U.S. v. Thompson, 315 F.3d 1071 (9th Cir. 2002), a downward departure was denied because the defendant not only possessed but also distributed child pornography.

To determine whether a downward departure should be granted, the district court looks to features of the case that make it unusual, whether the ground on which the court is contemplating a departure is encouraged, discouraged, or even forbidden; if the factor not mentioned at all in the Guidelines, then the district court must determine whether to warrant or not.

This is where we step in as your defense attorney. We will argue all facts to your benefit and do everything we can to get you a less harsh sentence than what the Sentencing Guidelines impose for the crime you are being charged with.

Our law firm will fight to get you the best results possible. We are determined and persistent in fighting for our clients.

At Hedding Law Firm, we will discuss all your options and work diligently to fight your case for you. Contact Hedding Law Firm in Los Angeles for a free face-to-face confidential consultation.

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