Strategies Related to Criminal History in a Federal Case

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingSep 26, 2022

Many people charged with a federal criminal case have a bad record, impacting their criminal history.  Why that's important is because criminal history plays a big part in what your sentence is going to be in a federal criminal case.  In other words, the higher your criminal history level, the higher your punishment will likely be.

If you look at the sentencing guidelines, there's a chart that on one side has the criminal history and on the other side has the levels related to whatever you're charged with and whatever you plead guilty to.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys

You can match up a corresponding sentence range, and that criminal history factors in significantly because the higher your criminal history is, the higher your sentence will be; the higher your exposure will be. Ultimately, the federal judge will decide what your sentence will be, but they will be looking at your criminal history.

Some strategies are – if someone has a high criminal history – but if you look at their record, it's not that bad. The attorney can argue that the criminal history that the probation department is coming up with overstates your true criminal history and asks the judge to find a lower criminal history. 

There's case law on this, and this is definitely something that can be argued successfully, depending on your case's facts and circumstances.  So, you need to talk to your attorney about your criminal history right from the beginning.  That's nothing to hide.  You want to let them know what you have.

A perfect example of how significant criminal history could be in a federal criminal case is if you have two prior drug sales convictions and pick up a new third sales conviction, you could be facing a 20-year mandatory minimum

They could classify you as a career offender.  So, this criminal history concept is fundamental as it relates to federal criminal cases.  You want an attorney who has experience dealing with these issues. Our California criminal defense lawyers will review this topic in more detail below.

Federal Criminal Sentencing

Anyone charged with a federal crime will fear the sentence more than the conviction. Federal trials and courtrooms are intimidating as they are the starting point to a potential penalty in federal prison.

Federal Criminal Sentencing

The Central District of California has tendencies related to prosecutors and judges and how they handle sentencing cases.  Judges throughout the United States use federal sentencing guidelines to help them decide what sentence to impose on a convicted defendant.

These guidelines are advisory, which means a judge has the discretion to go outside the guidelines if they think it's warranted based on the circumstances of a particular case.

Also, the defense attorney and prosecutor must consider the sentencing guidelines for dealing with a federal offense.

They are written by the United States Sentencing Commission, which is in the federal government's judicial branch. They are designed to give judges fair and consistent sentencing ranges when imposing a sentence, based on:

  • serious nature of the offense,
  • defendant's characteristics, and
  • criminal record.

If a judge wants to impose a different sentence, either higher or lower, from the penalty calculated in the guidelines, they must explain their decision in writing. While the guidelines are often complex, the federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 3553 lays out the factors a federal sentencing judge has to consider:

  • nature and circumstances of the crime;
  • history and characteristics of the defendant;
  • need for the sentence to reflect the severity of the offense;
  • need for the sentence to reflect respect for the law;
  • need for the sentence to provide just punishment;
  • adequate deterrence to further criminal conduct;
  • protecting the public from potential further crimes;
  • provide the defendant with needed educational training;
  • the sentencing guideline ranges;
  • any need to avoid unjustified sentences;
  • sentence a defendant with similar records for the same offense;
  • provide restitution to any victims of the crime.

The first thought for a convicted defendant is often where they will have to serve their sentence. All federal defendants will serve time in federal prisons, not state prisons or county jails, in locations throughout the United States.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons currently has about 127 federal prisons, 68 prison camps, and around a dozen private prisons in 37 states.

Departures from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

A federal judge must also decide whether there are aggravating or mitigating circumstances the guidelines didn't adequately consider. When they decide they exist, they could impose a sentence below or above the sentencing guideline range, but they must state their reasons in writing.  

If the sentence is an upward departure, defendants can appeal their ruling. If it's a downward departure, then the prosecutor can appeal.

A common downward departure request from a prosecutor is called “substantial assistance” and is usually granted when a defendant gives significant help in the criminal investigation of another defendant.  

What are the Most Common Federal Crimes?

  • 18 U.S.C. § 2251 - sexual exploitation of children,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2252 - child pornography,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 371 – conspiracy,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1030 - internet fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1341 - mail fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1343 - wire fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1344 - bank fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1347 – healthcare fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1348 - securities fraud,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1956 – money laundering,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1961 – racketeering,
  • 21 U.S.C. § 841 - drug trafficking,

I like to get a client in and go over everything piece by piece.  Hopefully, you don't have a criminal history, but if you have a criminal record, we'll sit down and discuss it. 

We're going to break it down and see how old you were when you got the convictions – get into the facts and details of the circumstances of those cases and see what you're charged with now and get a game plan together so you can end up with the lowest possible sentence if you have to plead guilty to a federal criminal case.

Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding and let my 30 years of federal criminal experience work for you. The Hedding Law Firm provides a free case evaluation via phone or contact form.