FEDERAL CRIMINAL CHARGES

Federal criminal law is similar state criminal law but it is distinguishable by the fact that the activity has been criminalized by the US Congress, rather than the individual States. Because it is a separate court system from state court there are different pretrial and trial procedures. Federal crimes will almost always be investigated by a federal law enforcement agency like the FBI, DEA, ICE, or IRS. Because the United States Government has literally unlimited resources to spend on prosecuting your case you need an attorney that has experience in federal criminal cases.

Iowa Federal cases can involve harsher punishments for similar state court crimes. The reason is that federal sentences are determined by an extremely complex set of rules called the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

These Guidelines can restrict federal judges from imposing a lower or lighter sentence. The guidelines were designed to take into account both the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history in helping judges determine what the “appropriate sentence” in each case was.

Contact a Iowa criminal defense lawyer representing clients in Waterloo, Iowa today to schedule your free initial consultation.

The “appropriate sentence” is determined by cross referencing the offense level and the criminal history category. The point on the chart at which the final offense level and the criminal history category intersect determines the defendant’s sentencing guideline range.

In the following example taken from the sentencing guidelines, an offender with a Criminal History Category of I and an offense level of 25 would have a guideline range of 57 to 71 months of imprisonment. An offender with an offense level of 27 and a Criminal History Category of VI has a range of 130-162 months.

SENTENCING TABLE (in months of imprisonment )

There are 43 levels of offense levels and six categories of criminal history. The higher the offense level and/or the higher the criminal history category, the higher the punishment.

How the Sentencing Guidelines Determine Your Offense Level

BASE OFFENSE LEVEL

Each type of crime is assigned a base offense level, which is the starting point for determining the number that will serve as your offense level. The more serious the charge, the higher the base offense level.

SPECIFIC OFFENSE CHARACTERISTICS

In addition to base offense levels, each offense type typically carries with it a number of “specific offense characteristics”. These are factors that can increase or decrease the base offense level and, ultimately, the sentence.

ADJUSTMENTS

Adjustments are factors that can apply to any offense. They can also increase or decrease the offense level in certain cases. An example of a beneficial adjustment would be if the offender was a minor participant in the offense, the offense level is decreased by 2 levels. An example of a harmful adjustment would be where the offender obstructed justice, then the offense level will be increased by 2 levels.

Acceptance of Responsibility Adjustment

The sentencing judge may decrease the offense level by two levels if, in the judge’s opinion, the offender accepted responsibility for his offense. Offenders who qualify for the two-level deduction and whose offense levels are greater than 15, may upon motion of the Untied State’s Attorney, be granted an additional one-level deduction if, they declared their intention to plead guilty early enough.

CRIMINAL HISTORY

The guidelines assign each offender to one of six criminal history categories based upon the extent of an offender ’s past misconduct and how recently these crimes took place. Criminal History Category I is assigned to the least serious criminal record and includes many first-time offenders. Criminal History Category VI is the most serious category and includes offenders with lengthy criminal records.

DEPARTURES

After the guideline range is determined, if the court determines a statutorily defined aggravating or mitigating circumstance exist, the court may “depart” from the guideline range. That is, the judge may sentence the offender above or below the range. The grounds permitted for departure are contained within the sentencing guidelines.

VARIANCES

The term variance refers to a sentence outside of that recommended by the sentencing guidelines. If a sentencing court is going to grant a variance in the recommended sentence it must fully explain the reasoning behind its decision to do so. Generally the reasons a sentencing court will grant a variance in a case will be found in one of the sentencing factors listed in Title 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) Factors To Be Considered in Imposing a Sentence which states that “The court shall impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes set forth in paragraph (2) of this subsection”. These factors include:

  1. the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;
  2. the need for the sentence imposed
    (A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;
    (B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
    (C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and
    (D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner;
  3. the kinds of sentences available;
  4. the kinds of sentence and the sentencing range established for
         (A) the applicable category of offense committed by the applicable category of defendant as set forth in the guidelines—    
             (i) issued by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to section 994 (a)(1) of title 28, United States Code, subject to any amendments made to such guidelines
             by act of Congress (regardless of whether such amendments have yet to be incorporated by the Sentencing Commission into amendments issued under
             section 994 (p) of title 28); and
             (ii) that, except as provided in section 3742 (g), are in effect on the date the defendant is sentenced; or
    (B) in the case of a violation of probation or supervised release, the applicable guidelines or policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to section 994 (a)(3) of title 28, United States Code, taking into account any amendments made to such guidelines or policy statements by act of Congress (regardless of whether such amendments have yet to be incorporated by the Sentencing Commission into amendments issued under section 994 (p) of title 28);
  5. any pertinent policy statement -
         (A) issued by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to section 994 (a)(2) of title 28, United States Code, subject to any amendments made to such policy statement
              by act of Congress (regardless of whether such amendments have yet to be incorporated by the Sentencing Commission into amendments issued under section
              994 (p) of title 28); and
         (B) that, except as provided in section 3742 (g), is in effect on the date the defendant is sentenced.[1]
  6. the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and
  7. the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation, contact an Iowa criminal defense accident attorney, representing clients in Waterloo, Iowa at the Feuerhelm Law Office, P.C. Give us a call at (515) 266-5552.