ATTACK THE CAREER OFFENDER LABEL !!! a Maryland Federal Criminal Attorney I know that nothing in the federal sentencing guidelines strikes more fear into the hearts of defendants and defense attorneys than the Career Offender provisions, found at section 4B1.1. This section is the most overused and perhaps least understood of all components of the guidelines.

In a nutshell, a criminal defendant is considered a Career Offender if he is currently charged with a violent crime or controlled substance offense and has previously been convicted twice of “a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.” It is basically the federal version of a “third strike” rule. The consequences of being labeled as a career offender are disastrous. First, a defendant’s criminal history category is automatically raised to Category VI-the most serious category in federal law. Second, the offense level for the current charge is also automatically inflated to some of the highest in the guidelines system. In most cases, the level is raised to 37. To give some perspective, level 43 is the highest designation in the sentencing guidelines, and applies to crimes such as 1st degree murder!

Moreover, federal courts have adopted a very wide “strike zone” in determining what constitutes a “controlled substance felony.” While most logical thinkers understand that a controlled substance felony means drug distribution or dealing, federal courts have ruled that a state drug possession conviction can qualify as long as the offense carries a maximum possible punishment of greater than one year. In Maryland, possession of cocaine carries a maximum possible punishment of four years, making it a “felony” for federal purposes, even though the crime is classified as a misdemeanor under state law. So an individual in Maryland who has been twice convicted of cocaine possession will be treated as a career offender if he thereafter is charged in federal court with drug dealing or conspiracy to deal drugs. The results are significant.

A defendant classified as a career offender in a federal drug case will typically face a sentencing range of 30 years – life! Facing such a monstrous guideline range forces many defendants to accept guilty pleas in defensible cases as well as cases where the defendant is actually innocent!

There is some good news though. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the federal sentencing guidelines were advisory only, skilled defense attorneys have had success in attacking the use (and overuse) of the Federal Career Offender Guidelines. Now, Judges across the United States have ruled that the Career Offender provisions should not apply in every case that may qualify. For example, Judges have ignored the Career Offender guidelines where:

1) the defendant had not served any significant jail time in his prior convictions;
2) the defendant was young at the time of the prior convictions;
3) the defendant’s prior convictions involved only a small amount of drugs;
4) the defendant had gotten married and fathered children since his last conviction;
5) the defendant did not play a “major role” in the prior offenses;
6) the defendant’s prior convictions were old and occurred in a short time span;
7) The defendant had gotten married and was raising a family.

Most importantly, Judges now can ignore the Career Offender provisions if they find that they conflict with the mandate in 18 U.S.C. 3553 to impose a “reasonable” sentence. That is, a Judge can impose any sentence that he or she believes is “reasonable” – regardless of the sentence suggested by the Career Offender guidelines. It is now incumbent on federal criminal defense attorneys to highlight every possible positive aspect of a client’s life and background to defeat the draconian career offender guidelines.

A defense attorney’s skill in the federal courtroom can literally save a client’s life.

I have had many cases where I have successfully convinced federal judges in Maryland and other federal districts not to apply the Career Offender provisions of the federal sentencing guidelines. The result for our clients is priceless.

The federal criminal defense attorneys at STSW have extensive courtroom experience and have gained significant positive results for our clients for almost a decade. We have handled almost every conceivable situation and issue in federal criminal practice. Please contact me if you would like to consult with us about your case or the case of a friend or loved one. We are always available and ready to assist.

Contact Information