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 Prepare for Sentencing with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines 

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Michael Santos

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How Do I Prepare for Sentencing?

Every defendant should learn how judges sentence. In determinate sentencing system, like the federal system, judges rely upon guidelines. Anyone can read about the process. Research the federal sentencing guidelines.

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The federal sentencing guidelines have two scales. One scale is vertical. The vertical scale runs from a level 1 to a level 43. The vertical scale measures the severity of the crime. A sentencing authority places a value on each type of crime. The federal sentencing guidelines publish those values. A lower number on the vertical scale corresponds with a lower range.

The other scale is horizontal. The horizontal scale measures criminal history. The person’s criminal history influences the sentencing range, too.

Crimes that fall into Offense Level 1 through Offense Level 8 are in Zone A. Those types of crime may result in a non-custodial sentence. That means the person can avoid prison. Alternative sanctions may be available in Zone B and Zone C, too.

Each case is different. Each judge is different. Each defendant is different. U.S. District Court Judges rely upon the federal sentencing guidelines. That’s the start. Some judge sentence within the guideline ranges in every case. Other judges combine the guidelines with discretion. Then they determine the best sentence.

What can a defendant do to influence the sentencing judge?

Preparing for sentencing begins with understanding. Expect obstacles and resistance to requests for mercy. Prepare to overcome those objections. Don’t rely on the attorney alone. Each defendant should take independent, deliberate action steps.

Expect prosecutors to argue for a stiff sentence. They create elaborate sentencing packages. All packages have one fact in common: they ask for severe sanctions. Prosecutors believe that lengthy sentences and heavy fines deter crimes. That’s their mandate.

Probation officers may also argue for punitive sentences. Probation officers use the prosecutor’s version of events. They’ll also use “facts” from the prosecutor to cite amount of loss. In drug cases, probation officers will write about the amount of drugs. Those levels will influence the sentence. In some cases, mandatory-minimum sentences will apply.

The defendant’s attorney will prepare a memorandum. They take the opposite approach from prosecutors. They argue for a lower sentence. Some defense attorneys do a good job. Others fail to prepare for sentencing.

What steps can a defendant take?

No one can change the past. But defendants can invest the time. They can invest energy. They can deploy resources to influence the sentencing hearing. How? Any defendant can take action steps to show what he or she has learned. The defendant can begin showing how he works to make things right. The defendant can strive to show how he or she identifies with the victim. The defendant can describe the influences that led to the accused crime.

What if the defendant did not plead guilty?

When defendants come into the system, they ordinarily enter a plea of not guilty. Although most enter plea agreements, some stick with the not guilty plea. They go through trial. If a jury convicts, they still need to prepare for sentencing. What can they do?

They may face a challenge. On the one hand, they want to preserve arguments for appeal. On the other hand, they will want to influence the judge. Every defendant wants mercy at sentencing. The sentence influences life for months, years, and decades to come.

Whether convicted by trial or plea, the defendant can build a personal case for mercy. Mercy begins by helping the judge understand. How did the defendant get into the situation? What background does the defendant have? What influences brought the defendant to where he or she is today?

Every factor matters to a sentencing judge. Judge rarely have personal information on the defendants they sentence. Who is the responsible? Some may say it’s the defense attorney. But the defendant should not ignore personal responsibility to prepare for sentencing. Think about what steps he or she can take. When a person is convicted of a crime, the person should try to explain. Help the judge understand personal background. A defendant should show why he or she is worthy of mercy.

The federal sentencing guidelines are severe. Yet a defendant can influence the process. Boilerplate motions do not help. Write sentencing narratives that explain. Explanations should not excuse criminal activities. But they help a judge understand the bigger picture. Let the judge know the influences of background. Let the judge know why you will never be accused of another crime. Let the judge know what steps you’re taking to make things right.

When judges do not have this personal information, the defendant is at a disadvantage. The judge relies upon the prosecution’s version of events. Don’t let that happen. Make every effort to help the judge. Help the judge see you as a person. If you have the skillset, take action on your own. A defendant should time to research courtroom procedures. How do judges sentence in different cities? What strategies helped defendants in different areas? How can you anticipate what will happen at sentencing? What will the prosecutor say? What can you do to overcome the prosecutor’s argument for a harsh sentence?

Prepare for Sentencing

Put some thought into your preparation for sentencing. Understand how that procedure will influence your life. If you don’t have the resources to hire an expert, do your research. We make information available through our website at Subscribe to our YouTube channel or follow us on social media. We give away more information than we sell. We hope to help you.

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