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INTRODUCTION TO FEDERAL SENTENCING

Welcome to our Sentencing Resource Page.  Here you will find articles and other materials that will help you understand the current state of federal sentencing, and argue for the best sentence possible for your clients.  Click on the menu items to the right to access all of our resources. 

 

The following article will provide you with an excellent overview of the federal sentencing sytem as it exists today:

 

This excerpt from the article is a good starting point for those who are new to federal criminal practice:

"In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act replaced the broad discretion traditionally afforded federal judges in sentencing with far more limited authority, controlled by a complex set of mandatory sentencing guidelines promulgated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Mandatory-guidelines practice held sway for two decades, until it was fundamentally altered by the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), which excised the Act’s mandatory provisions and rendered the guidelines merely advisory.  Today, we practice in the world that Booker created. The Supreme Court returned discretion to the sentencing judge, but it left open many questions about the scope of that discretion, and the changes in sentencing procedure that the newly advisory guidelines might require. The Court has begun to answer these questions in a series of important decisions about post-Booker sentencing practice, the effects of which are being felt in sentencing courts around the country. Meanwhile, the Sentencing Commission has continued to promulgate new guidelines, and to weigh-in with its views on the advisory-guideline system.  What does this mean for defense counsel? That we must be prepared to represent our clients’ interests in a time of potential change, and emerging opportunity."

For a good roadmap on how to formulate sentencing arguments in a post-Booker world, see:


Part I of this paper argues that defense attorneys should refocus sentencing courts on the sentencing purposes and parsimony principle of the governing sentencing statute, 18 U.S.C. §3553(a). It also offers several suggestions regarding the kinds of facts and considerations that may be relevant to each sentencing purpose. Part II discusses "consideration" of the advisory guideline range and what role, if any, sentencing purposes and empirical evidence of past practice have played in the guidelines' development. Part III discusses deconstruction of the guideline range and construction of a purpose-driven sentence. Part IV argues that the first question in every case in which prison is not statutorily required should be whether probation will suffice. Part V offers suggestions for objective, well-reasoned bases that can be used, alone or in combination, to support a non-guideline sentence of probation or a shorter prison term. Part VI provides step-by-step examples of how to construct a purpose-driven sentence in different types of cases.