What is a Mandatory Minimum Sentence in a Federal Case?

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If you have federal criminal charges pending, you may be extremely worried about the possibility of being found guilty, and you may have heard that sentences in federal cases are much more severe than those in state cases. This is true, to some extent. You will face a mandatory minimum sentence in a federal case which falls under federal sentencing guidelines. The Whalen Law Office is here to take some of your stress and anxiety away. We are highly experienced federal defense attorneys based in Texas.

At Whalen Law Office, we defend those charged with a criminal offense, whether state or federal, and our experience in this area is exemplary. You want a knowledgeable, highly skilled criminal defense attorney who has a full understanding of what your mandatory minimum sentence in a federal case might be. Our extensive resources and networking will help every aspect of your case, yet we have maintained a highly personalized approach for each and every client. At Whalen Law Office, we understand what you are facing, and will zealously fight for your rights, your future, and your freedom.

What is a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?

A mandatory minimum sentence is a sentence created by Congress or a state legislature that dictates the minimum sentence a judge must apply to an individual convicted of a crime, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. Mandatory minimums typically apply to drug crimes and gun crimes. For drug crimes, the mandatory minimum sentencing is based on the type of drug and the weight of the drug involved. For a gun crime, the presence of a gun triggers a mandatory minimum sentence.

Even when a judge believes the sentence is too harsh for the offender, his or her role in the offense, or the nature of the crime, there is no leeway for a lighter sentence. The current federal mandatory minimums for drug crimes were created by Congress in 1986 and 1988. Since that time, more than a quarter of a million people have received mandatory minimums for a federal drug crime. States also have these mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

While there is a good alternative to mandatory minimum sentencing, they have not been implemented. As an example, in lieu of a mandatory minimum, there could be sentencing guidelines that allow the judge to take each person’s unique situation into account when it comes time to hand down a sentence.

These sentencing guidelines would give the court a range—say from 41-63 months in prison, based on the offender’s criminal record and how serious the crime was. The judge would also have some flexibility to sentence above or below that range when there are special circumstances. Mandatory minimum sentencing takes away the court’s ability to tailor the sentence to fit the individual and the offense.

How Does a Mandatory Minimum Sentence Work in a Federal Case?

So, if you’ve been found guilty on federal charges, and are now facing sentencing, it’s important that you know whether there is a mandatory minimum for your specific criminal offense. If you are coming before the federal bench for sentencing on a charge that corresponds to a Congressionally-established mandatory minimum, then there is absolutely no flexibility in your sentencing. You will do the time, with few exceptions. Most federal convictions that have accompanying mandatory minimum sentences involve drugs, identity theft, child sex offenses, or firearms. A conviction for drug trafficking gives you the highest chance of facing a mandatory minimum sentence, with nearly two-thirds of all federal mandatory minimums being related to drug trafficking. If you are convicted for possession of a firearm during a crime or in furtherance of a crime, you will also face a mandatory minimum.

Unfortunately, some federal prosecutors will “stack” the mandatory minimum sentences, making multiple charges in the same proceeding, which in turn forces a sentence for a firearms offense to be served consecutively to a sentence for the underlying offense. In 1993, the Supreme Court approved this type of prosecutorial stacking. As far as identity theft, in 2004 Congress passed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act which imposes a 2-year mandatory sentence for anyone convicted on charges of aggravated identity theft. This is another crime where prosecutorial stacking is allowed.

What Are Federal Sentencing Guidelines?

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are non-binding rules for those convicted on federal charges. These sentencing guidelines became effective in 1987, which allows a number of factors to come into play when it’s time to sentence an offender for a federal crime following his or her conviction. These guidelines are not mandatory, however, a judge must consider the guidelines when determining a sentence for an individual convicted of a federal offense. If the judge decides to ignore the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, they must explain the factors that warranted a deviation from the guidelines.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines first consider the seriousness of the offense—there are 43 levels of seriousness, and the more serious the crime, the higher the offense level. As an example, criminal trespass has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32. Each offense carries a number of specific offense characteristics—for instance, if your offense is fraud with a $6,000 loss, it would increase two levels, while fraud with a $50,000 loss would increase six levels. Adjustments are factors that can apply to any offense to increase or decrease the total. There are victim-related adjustments, the offender’s role in the offense, and whether obstruction of justice was present.

When there are multiple counts, the sentencing guidelines seek to achieve a combined offense level. The next step involves acceptance of responsibility—if the judge believes the offender has fully accepted responsibility for his or her offense, the offense level may be decreased by two levels. Finally, the guidelines assign an offender a criminal history category based on past conduct with I being the least serious (usually first-time offenders) and VI being the most serious for those with extensive criminal records.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney from Whalen Law Office Help?

If you are facing a mandatory minimum sentence for a federal offense, speak to an attorney at the Whalen Law Office. We are well-versed in federal crimes and have a full understanding of sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums. We will always seek to have your charges decreased when possible to avoid these harsh federal sentences. Never take federal criminal charges lightly. The federal government has virtually unlimited resources to build a case against you, taking away years of your life in one conviction or guilty plea. At Whalen Law Office we believe that no one should experience the strain of a federal case without the support of highly respected, proven legal counsel. We will give your case the time and care it deserves, working hard for the best possible outcome. Contact Whalen Law Office today.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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