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What Factors Influence Sentencing Levels for Federal Crimes?

Federal Crimes

Federal sentences are usually prescribed for specific crimes, typically in ranges running from minimum to maximum prison sentences and fines. Some crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences. However, in most cases the sentence is set by a judge after hearing and considering multiple factors.

In a sentencing hearing, federal judges are guided by 18 USC 3553(a) to consider specific factors when determining an appropriate sentence. These factors can be broadly categorized as aggravating and mitigating, and they influence the severity of the punishment.

Aggravating factors are facts and circumstances that make the crime more serious and as such could lead to an enhanced sentence. These factors can include the following:

  • Nature and circumstances of the offense — The court takes into account the degree of the crime, the harm caused, any use of weapons or violence and the presence of premeditation or planning. Factors like abuse of a position of trust or targeting vulnerable victims can also aggravate the sentence.
  • History and characteristics of the defendant — These include the defendant’s history of past offenses and violence or recidivism. The defendant’s age, mental health, education and employment situation may also be relevant.
  • Refusal to accept responsibility — Lack of remorse, cooperation with law enforcement or attempts to shift blame to others can worsen the sentence.

Mitigating factors can include personal characteristic and extenuating circumstances that could justify a reduced sentence. They can include the following:

  • Lack of prior record of serious crime — If there is any criminal record, the defendant’s amenability to rehabilitation is relevant to sentencing.
  • Acceptance of responsibility — Expressing remorse, pleading guilty and cooperating with authorities can lessen the sentence.
  • Diminished capacity — Mental or emotional challenges that may have impaired the defendant’s judgment or control over their actions can be considered.
  • Exceptional circumstances — Unusual hardships or challenges in the defendant’s life that influenced their behavior may be considered.
  • History of charitable works — Contributions to society, community service, or acts of heroism can soften the sentence.
  • Family circumstances — The impact of the sentence on the defendant’s dependents, such as children or elderly parents, can be a mitigating factor.

A judge will all give consideration to these principles:

  • Proportionality — The sentence should be reasonable in terms of the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s culpability.
  • Deterrence — The sentence should discourage the defendant and others from similar crimes.
  • Public safety — The sentence should protect the public from further harm by the defendant.
  • Rehabilitation — The sentence should provide the defendant with opportunities for rehabilitation and positive change.

Judges have wide discretion to weigh these factors and to fix a sentence that furthers the criminal justice system’s goals of protecting society and doing justice to the accused. If you face federal criminal charges, it makes sense to hire a defense attorney with federal court experience.

The Law Offices of David Jay Glassman, with offices in Marlton, New Brunswick, Hackensack and Newark, represents criminal defendants in state and federal courts throughout New Jersey. To schedule a no-cost consultation, call us now at 866-221-1270 or contact us online.