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Federal Criminal Defense-Sentencing Factors

The federal criminal sentencing has changed dramatically since the landmark case of United States v. Booker in 2005. Federal criminal defense attorneys have significantly more room for creativity and advocacy. Federal Judges are no longer handcuffed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. For decades decades the power in sentencing, and most federal prosecutions, rested with the prosecutor. Booker has shifted the stables-somewhat, in favor of the criminal defense lawyer and given Federal Judges a more “human” role at sentencing.

18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) requires the Court to fashion a sentence “sufficient but not greater than necessary” to achieve the statutory purposes of punishment. In Booker, the Supreme Court restored this Court’s ability to fashion a sentence tailored to the unique circumstances of each case and each criminal defendant by requiring courts to consider factors other than the sentencing range prescribed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Thus, although the Federal Judge still must take the Sentencing Guidelines into account, Booker rendered the Sentencing Guidelines advisory. See Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586, 594 (2007); United States v. Pauley, 511 F.3d 468 (4th Cir. 2007). The sentencing guideline range is not binding on the Court, but is only one of several factors in §3553 (a) to be considered in determining the sentence. Booker, 543 U.S. at 258-60.

In fact, the sentencing guidelines do not even enjoy a presumption of reasonableness. Nelson v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 890, 892 (2009)(“The guidelines are not only not mandatory on sentencing courts; they are also not to be presumed reasonable.”)(emphasis in original). See also Rita v. United States, 127 S. Ct. 2456 (2007). The “overarching” command of § 3553(a) is the Parsimony Clause, which “instruct[s] district courts to ‘impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary’ to accomplish the goals of sentencing.” Kimbrough, 128 S.Ct. 558, 563 (2007)(quoting Gall, 128 S.Ct. at 600).

As a result, since 2005, our attorneys have been able to secure probationary sentences in federal criminal cases-which previously would have been unthinkable. For more information on the changes in the landscape post Booker and other Federal Criminal issues, please contact the criminal defense attorneys at our firm.