Federal Sentencing OverviewAnyone facing a federal sentencing hearing in Oklahoma has multiple questions about the process and the meaning of the outcome. The federal sentencing hearing in likely the most important process in your federal criminal case in Oklahoma, due to the seriousness of federal criminal charges or being indicted in federal court. When your life and freedom are on the line, you need a FIERCE ADVOCATE to fight for your future. Some of the most common questions our firm receives concerning federal sentencing hearings are as follows:
- What are the consequences of a plea in federal court?
- Will I be able to get a job after release from federal prison?
- Will I see my family or friends after being charged in federal court?
- Where will I serve federal prison time?
- Can I speak to the federal judge during my federal sentencing hearing?
What is a Federal Sentencing Hearing?Every case in federal court that is resolved without all charges being dismissed or an acquittal at jury trial of all counts will result in sentencing before a federal district judge. A federal sentencing hearing is the setting in which the judge determines the penalty or punishment for your federal crime(s). The federal sentencing hearing will be held at the federal courthouse where your trial or guilty plea was entered.
Why does Federal Sentencing take so long?The Presentence Report, PSI, takes a long time to create, which must be completed before sentencing. The federal sentencing hearing will occur on a date subsequent to your guilty plea of federal criminal trial. Federal sentencing is much more in depth and much more serious than sentencing in state criminal court or municipal court in Oklahoma. Typically, a federal sentencing hearing takes place roughly 90 days after you are found guilty at trial or plead guilty to federal charges. Unlike Oklahoma criminal state court in which you are usually sentenced on the same date as your guilty plea. Federal sentencing takes so long due to the events that happen in between being found guilty in federal court or entering a guilty plea and the court being prepared to determine your sentence. Your federal defense attorney cannot do much to speed up this process; however, your attorney can give you some reasons for the lengthy process, such as delays in the Presentence Investigation or Presentence Report (PSI or PSRI in Oklahoma). Your lawyer does not write the PSI; however, your federal defense attorney can make an impact in your PSI. The U.S. Probation Office Agent or Pretrial Services Agent drafts the PSI; however, this is only one of many responsibilities for the agent.
Process Before the Sentencing Hearing
PSI Reports & Presentence InvestigationThe federal judge in your case will order the PSI, which is a report prepared to assist the Court in determining your sentence. The U.S. Probation Office is responsible for preparing PSI Reports. Individual U.S. Probation Office agents investigate, draft, and present the PSI for all parties to review. The PSI contains important information that the Court will consider in determining your federal sentence. Your federal defense attorney and the U.S. Attorney will receive the PSI before your sentencing hearing and have the opportunity to present objections to the PSI, including: the factual determinations, the guideline sentencing range, the opinions of the Probation Officer, and any enhancements identified.
Federal Sentencing Hearings
Prepared by a U.S. Probation Office Agent
||DETAILS OF THE OFFENSE
LOSS OR DAMAGES
What is in a Presentence Investigation Report?The Presentence Investigation Report (PSI) is intended to give the Court a complete picture of the defendant and the federal offense or offenses. However, it is written by a human being, so it naturally has some amount of opinion or bias. Here are the key parts of the PSI: 1) Biography of Defendant being Sentenced: federal criminal courts strive for fairness in sentencing, which includes evaluating what if any factors contributed to the Defendant coming to be in the situation resulting in a guilty plea or conviction for a federal crime. This information includes childhood, personal struggles, emotional or mental health issues, military service, education, family or lack thereof, addition, past rehabilitation, employment history, and other factors that mitigate or aggravate the circumstances of your case. 2) Offense Details: No two crimes are the same, even the same federal offense, under a specific statute can be more or less aggravated than another similar offense. The Court considers the circumstances of every offense and those affected in determining your sentence, much of the PSI includes this type of information, i.e. number of victims or defendants involved, quantity of drugs, time span of the crime, violence, etc. 3) Victim Impact: federal judges consider victim impact in sentencing; therefore, the PSI contains this type of information. The PSI will give the sentencing judge and parties a perspective on the following questions: was anyone injured or killed as a result of the crime? Is there restitution or financial loss to victims? How many victims exist? How old are the victims? Does the want the defendant to serve prison time? What is the victim’s relationship, if any, to the Defendant?
Will I participate in my PSI being drafted?Yes, Defendant input in the PSI is a very important part of federal sentencing. The Federal Probation Agent will come visit you at jail, if you are in custody and interview you to obtain personal background information. Your federal defense attorney may be present during this meeting, which is useful, because your defense attorney can ensure the Federal Probation Officer includes important events or circumstances in your life that mitigate your circumstances. Your federal defense lawyer can help highlight important factors for the Probation Officer.
When does the Federal Judge see the PSI?The Federal Judge will not see the PSI until after your defense attorney and the U.S. Attorney have an opportunity to review it. First, the U.S. Probation Office Agent will complete an initial draft of the PSI, which is sent to your defense attorney and the U.S. Attorney for their review and the opportunity to object to any details in the PSI. Your federal defense attorney and the U.S. Attorney have a limited amount of time to review and respond to the Probation Officer with objects or proposed revisions to the PSI. Next, the agent will review the objections of both sides and prepare the Final PSI, which is submitted to the parties and the federal sentencing judge. The federal judge will not reach conclusions on the PSI until hearing from the parties at the Sentencing Hearing. Procedurally, the sentencing hearing begins with the Federal Judge hearing argument by the U.S. Attorney and your federal defense lawyer as to their previously drafted objections to the PSI. This is a crucial phase of sentencing as the PSI provides the Court will the Guideline Range for your sentence, i.e. a range in months within the statutory punishment range for your offense based on enhancements from the base offense. The Court will consider your defense attorney’s arguments and resources presented in deciding the appropriate guideline range, which is not binding on the Court.
What else happens before the Sentencing Hearing?Both parties are permitted to submit Sentencing Memorandums, which the Court will read and consider along with the PSI and evidence at the Sentencing Hearing prior to determining your sentence. The U.S. Attorney represents the government, is a federal prosecutor and will submit a Sentencing Memorandum to the Court. The prosecutor may argue the offense or victim impact warrants more prison time or harsher penalties in your case. Your federal defense attorney should submit a Sentencing Memorandum explaining what makes you unique and how the Sentencing Factors in 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) warrant a downward variance, i.e. a sentence less than the Guideline Range. Sentencing Memorandums are not mandatory; however, they are an important factor in the Federal Court’s determination of your sentence.
What are the Sentencing Factors?The 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors are a required consideration by a sentencing court, along with the sentencing `guidelines. The factors are as follows:
- The nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the Defendant;
- The need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law and to provide just punishment for the offense; to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and to provide the defendant with needed vocational training, medical care, or other effective correctional treatment;
- The kind of sentences available;
- The advisory guideline range;
- Any pertinent policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission;
- The need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities; and
- The need to provide restitution to the victims of the offense, where applicable.
What Happens at Federal Sentencing Hearing?Your federal sentencing hearing is one of, if not the most important event in your federal criminal case. It is vital that you have experienced counsel represent you at this phase. First, the setting, federal sentencing hearings take place in the appropriate federal courthouse, i.e. the William J. Holloway Jr. United States Courthouse in Oklahoma City for crimes within the Western District of Oklahoma. Federal sentencing hearings are open to the public, unless Orders have been issued by the Court prohibiting public attendance at the sentencing hearing. Before the sentencing hearing begins, all the parties will be present in the courtroom prior to the Federal Judge. When it is time for the hearing to begin, the Judge’s Bailiff will announce the Judge’s presence and say “all rise”, which is an act of respect for the Court. The Judge will tell everyone when they may be seated and the next steps are somewhat dependent on the individual Judge’s preference. Typically, the Federal Judge’s Clerk will swear everyone in before they speak, except the attorneys as they are Officers of the Court. As indicated above, the Federal Judge will ask if unresolved issues exist between the U.S. Attorney your defense attorney concerning the PSI, Presentence Investigation Report. Most experienced federal defense attorneys will find at least some objections concerning the PSI or recommend sentence enhancements. Each side, the U.S. Attorney and your defense attorney will have an opportunity to argue each objection or issue to the Court. The Federal Judge will announce a decision on each issue/objection to the PSI, either increasing or decreasing the Guideline Sentencing range for each offense, i.e. advisory punishment range for your offense. Once all objections or issues with the PSI are resolved, a Guideline Sentencing range, which is advisory, will be determined and the substantive portion of the sentencing hearing will begin. The U.S. Attorney will argue the government’s position and may present witnesses or evidence in support of their position. Your federal criminal defense attorney will respond and speak on your behalf. Your defense attorney can present evidence, witnesses, photographs, or other material to the sentencing judge for consideration, particularly to the Sentencing Factors identified above from 18 U.S.C. §3553(a). Live testimony explaining the person you are and how this experience has impacted you and your family is powerful. The hardships you have overcome or issues supporting a lighter sentence are proper to present to the Court.
What Punishment can a Federal Judge Order?Federal Judges have broad authority in determining your federal sentence. After reviewing the Sentencing Memorandums, PSI, testimony and evidence at the Sentencing Hearing, and argument of the parties, the Judge will render your sentence. The Judge will often render your sentence in open Court at the conclusion of the Sentencing Hearing. The types of sentences available to the Court include the following or a combination:
- Federal Prison;
- Community Service;
- Drug/Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs;
- Drug Court;
- Other sentences deemed appropriate by the Court
- Be honest with your federal defense attorney and yourself about your life and your involvement in your case.
- Help your attorney give the Court a visual of you outside of the charges you are facing.
- Use character witnesses, if you have them. The Court does not know you personally, help your defense attorney show you are a person, not simply a number passing through the criminal justice system. This can include, but is not limited to: awards, certificates, diplomas, work accreditation, promotions, community involvement, your family, and other milestones.
- Show remorse for your offense. I repeat, taking responsibility for your federal crimes in possibly the most impactful presentation you can make to the Court. Consider writing a statement or an outline of the points you want to make, you will be understandably nervous at your sentencing hearing.
- Provide your defense attorney everything and allow your attorney to help you decide what to present or leave out.