Federal Criminal Defense Resources for Orange County and all of Southern California
by Joseph Abrams
The federal sentencing guidelines emerged from the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) and first became effective on November 1, 1987. Prior to the guidelines, federal judges had virtually unfettered discretion to mete out a wide range of “indeterminate” sentences, and the U.S. Parole Commission would then decide when inmates were actually released from prison. The SRA abolished federal parole and instituted mandatory sentencing guidelines binding on all federal judges. Over the years, the guidelines have continually changed in substantial ways through numerous amendments, new legislation, and case law. This article takes a look at how federal sentencing practice has evolved alongside the guidelines over the past 34 years.
As the number of sentences imposed against the January 6 rioters increase, they are hitting the news headlines with more regularity – and raising questions about their fairness. The sentences have been wildly disparate, some for good reasons, but others for reasons that are not entirely clear. This article takes a look at the sentences that have been imposed thus far, and attempts to explain the reasoning for the divergent outcomes.
The “career offender” enhancement under the federal sentencing guidelines has been flawed since it was promulgated as part of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The many structural problems with the law and its application have never been statutorily addressed. It’s now widely agreed by defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges that sentences imposed pursuant to the career offender guideline are among the most severe and least likely to promote the statutory purposes of sentencing. This article takes a brief look at the history of the career offender guideline, its impact on sentencing, and how it can be improved.
Federal grand juries are invested with broad powers, operate in secrecy, and have sweeping authorities to investigate individuals based merely on tips and rumors. So, what could there possibly be to fear? For the vast majority of law-abiding citizens – nothing. The grand jury is an institution that has been around for centuries and is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Still, most people have little understanding of the grand jury process, which can lead to unfounded fears about the work it does. This article looks at the basics of the law of federal grand juries, including their purpose, how they’re organized, and how they operate.
The First Step Act of 2018 authorized, for the first time, a federal inmate, rather than solely the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to file a motion seeking compassionate release. Not surprisingly, a significant increase in motions were filed the following year in 2019, the majority of which were filed by inmates, resulting in a five-fold increase in the number of motions granted. Of course, COVID-19 struck the following year, resulting in an even greater increase in motions filed by federal inmates in 2020. This article looks at the requirements for compassionate release in federal cases and examines data from the year 2020.
Sentence disparity in federal non-production cases began to increase after passage of the Protect Act in 2003, which added a series of enhancements to the child pornography sentencing guideline. In the years since, sentence disparity has persisted and continues to increase at a significant rate. This article looks at recent sentencing outcomes in federal non-production cases, and discusses the primary factors that cause sentence disparity.
Federal prosecutors use RICO charges to convict as many members as possible of a criminal organization of multiple offenses. Whereas RICO charges were historically used to combat organized crime, federal prosecutors today use RICO charges to prosecute a wide range of common crimes. Moreover, the complexity and breadth of the law can be intimidating to defense attorneys and defendants. This article breaks down the basic elements of a RICO charge, and suggests how they can be effectively challenged.
In any federal criminal case with more than one count of conviction, the court must apply the guidelines’ “grouping” rules to determine a single, combined offense level and sentencing range. The rules are complex and not well-understood by most federal practitioners. This article looks at the key points for federal criminal defense lawyers and defendants to understand to properly apply the grouping rules under the guidelines.
Federal sentencing in white collar crimes has shifted consistently in the direction of harsher sentences. Amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in recent years have resulted in higher sentencing ranges for economic crimes. While federal judges are willing to resist the harshness of the sentencing guidelines in white collar cases, they are often frustrated from doing so because they are not provided with the information they need during sentencing. This article discusses the most important factors that federal criminal defense attorneys should focus on to obtain the most favorable results in white collar criminal cases.
The vast majority of federal criminal cases are resolved pursuant to a formal written plea agreement. In a typical plea agreement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence and/or the dismissal of some charges. A plea bargain often seems like a good choice because it brings some certainty compared to the unknown risks of a trial. However, many defendants accept a plea bargain without knowing its full impact on their rights and potential sentence. This article discusses what both defendants and defense attorneys most need to know about federal plea bargains.
The Bill of Rights constitute the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. They famously enumerate many of our most cherished civil liberties, including the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms. But what do the Bill of Rights say in the context of the criminal justice system? This article looks at the four Amendments in the Bill of Rights that speak directly to the protections afforded all criminal defendants.
“Relevant Conduct” is one of the guidelines’ foundational principles that impacts nearly every aspect of guideline application. It is a complex set of rules and definitions that serves as a gatekeeper in determining the extent of a defendant’s conduct that may be considered in applying the guidelines. This article looks at the key points of relevant conduct that are most crucial for federal criminal defense lawyers and defendants to understand.