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What Happens Before A Sentence Is Imposed In Federal Court?

Posted in Blog on February 14th, 2014

After a person is convicted of a crime in federal court, either by plea or a trial, the next thing that happens in their case is they are sentenced. Prior to announcing a sentence in federal court, judges are provided with a significant amount of information about the defendant and the specifics of the charge that they are now convicted of committing.  This process is incredibly important and can mean the difference between jail and freedom.

A probation officer from the U. S. Department of Probation will meet with the defendant and interview them about the case, their prior criminal history, their family and all aspects of their life.  It is imperative that prior to this important meeting an experienced defense attorney meets with and properly prepares the defendant for this serious meeting. Additionally, the attorney should be at the meeting with the probation officer.  The defense attorney will be able to supply the probation officer with any material that they deem important for the probation officer to have including letters from family and friends, awards and recognition letters that the defendant has previously received and etc.

After this meeting is complete the probation officer will create a report for the court called a a presentence report (PSR).  The presentence report will outline the history of the defendant, including his familial, economic, educational, social and criminal history.  This will allow the judge to see and understand the how the defendant got to where he is today.  Additionally, the presentence report will outline the crime charged along with the recommended sentencing guidelines based on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

The presentence report then is given to the judge, the prosecutor and the defense lawyer.  The defense lawyer will have an opportunity to then file any objections to the presentence report.

One of the most important things for the defense attorney to create is a sentencing memorandum. The sentencing memorandum is the defense attorney’s opportunity to argue for a lower sentence.  A good sentencing memorandum will lay out legal argument and authority as to why the defendant should receive a lower sentence.  There are many legal reasons why a judge can give a lower sentence.  Each case is different and based upon the facts of the specific case, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney will be able to present a strong argument for a lower sentence.
Finally, the court will conduct a sentencing hearing.  At this hearing, the judge will already have reviewed the presentence report as well as objections and sentencing memorandums from both the prosecution and the defense.  It is at this hearing that the judge will allow both sides to make verbal arguments for their requested sentence.  Depending upon the specific circumstances, I will have family members read statements to the judge in support of the defendant.

Sentencing in federal criminal cases is one of the most complex and important aspects of a criminal case. It can mean the difference between prison and probation or a long prison sentence vs a short sentence.  This has been a very general overview of the detailed process of federal criminal sentencing.  For more detailed or specific information, please contact Fort Lauderdale Federal Criminal Defense Attorney David J. Sobel at 954-383-3000.