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Navigating the federal sentencing guidelines: work with an experienced attorney

In our last post, we began speaking about the Obama administration’s newest move to tweak and rework the federal criminal justice system’s approach to drug crimes. As we noted, actions taken by the administration in recent years sought, in particular, to ease up on the system’s handling of non-violent drug offenders.

The federal sentencing guidelines, of course, play an important role in the way drug offenders are handled at the federal level. Having a basic understanding of the general approach of the sentencing guidelines can help the reader better appreciate the way an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist a defendant in minimizing the consequences of federal drug charges. 

First of all, the federal sentencing guidelines take several factors into account when assigning a sentencing range for a conviction. One of these factors is the seriousness of the offense for which the defendant has been convicted. In coming up with the offense seriousness level, points connected to specific offense characteristics are added to a base offense level for the type of crime involved. Specific offense characteristics, naturally, vary depending on the circumstances of the case, and it is important to ensure that prosecutors are not allowed to ratchet up the sentencing range by arguing for unfair increases in the offense seriousness by presenting the case in a particular way.  

For example, a drug offender may receive a more severe sentencing range in cases where the defendant committed the offense as part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as livelihood or where the defendant was directly involved in the importation of a controlled substance. These specific factors are not always adequately supported by the evidence, even when prosecutors attempt to argue their presence. A knowledgeable and skilled defense attorney is able to target such specific offense characteristics like these in his or her defense strategy and direct the case in such a way that these factors ultimately have less influence on the sentencing range.

We’ll continue this discussion in our next post.

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