What is the Prison Sentence for Wire Fraud?
Many factors will influence sentence length for a conviction of wire fraud. Wire fraud includes the use of email, telephone, the Internet, or other telecom equipment. For that reason, federal rather than state authorities bring charges for wire fraud in most cases. A sentence may be as low as a few months probation. Aggravating factors, on the other hand, can push that sentence to more than 30 years. Let me explain why.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
In the federal system, judges begin with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines start with a complicated grid. The grid has a horizontal scale and a vertical scale. The vertical scale includes different levels, from level 1 to level 42. The type of crime and other aggravating factors determine the vertical scale. Some of those factors are objective, like the type of crime. Other factors are subjective, like whether the defendant accepts responsibility. The horizontal scale, from I to VI, measures the defendant’s criminal history.
United States versus Booker
A U.S. Supreme Court Case, United States versus Booker, influenced the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Booker case made guidelines advisory rather than mandatory. Since Booker, judges have discretion to go outside the guidelines. They may sentence above or below the guideline range. Most judges will rely upon the guidelines as a starting point.
For wire fraud, the starting point is level six. If the person does not have a criminal history, level six recommends a sentence of less than six months. The judge may impose probation.
Aggravating Sentencing Factors
Aggravating factors can raise the level. For example, if the “loss amount” exceeded $70,000, the guidelines recommend an increase of 8 points. That factor alone would lift the sentencing range to between 15 and 21 months. If the amount of loss exceeded $1,000,000, the guidelines recommend adding 16 points. A level 22 range advises a judge to impose a term of between 41 and 51 months. If the loss exceeds $100 million, the level increases by 26 points, to 32. This range starts at 121 months and extends to 151 months.
Loss amount is one of many factors that influences sentencing guidelines. If the government finds that the defendant used mass marketing to perpetuate the fraud, the guidelines increase by two levels. If the fraud victimized more than 10 people, the guidelines will increase by two more levels. Those levels rise by four if there were more than 50 victims. They rise by six levels if there were more than 250 victims.
Aggravating factors can include:
- Amount of loss
- Number of victims
- Defendant’s intentions
- Age of victims
- Marketing techniques
- Other factors.
When considering all factors, prosecutors may ask judges to impose terms well in excess of 30 years for fraud offenses.
If a defendant wants to lessen his or her exposure to a lengthy sentence for wire fraud, the defendant should take very specific actions.
- First, the defendant should show how and why he or she identifies with the victim.
- Second the defendant should help the judge and other stakeholders understand the influences that led to the offense.
- Third, the defendant should be able to articulate remorse or show what steps he or she is taking to make things right.
- And finally, the defendant should try to show what he or she has learned from the offense and why he or she is worthy of mercy.
For more information on preparing for sentence mitigation techniques, I offer a booklet to understand prosecution, sentencing, and prison.