Acceptance of Responsibility

Under US Federal Law, a special provision in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines allows a reduction in an offender’s sentence if the offender takes responsibility for their actions and pleads guilty, and takes steps to show a change in behavior. 

This Acceptance of Responsibility provision can help reduce penalties for serious offenses, but can only be invoked in certain circumstances. 



What is Acceptance of Responsibility?

U.S.S.G. sec. 3E1.1 set out that “If the defendant clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility for his offense, decrease the offense level by 2 levels”, and if the offense is “level 16 or greater” and the defendant has entered a guilty plea, the offense can be reduced by one additional “level”. This is the reason why some defendants may plead guilty in Federal criminal cases, even though they have a constitutional right to a trial. 

Levels of offense determine how long a person may be imprisoned, how much they can be fined, or what length of probation they may be subject to. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines include 43 levels, with level 1 being the least serious, and level 43 being a minimum sentence of life imprisonment. A level 1 offense in contrast could result in 0-6 months of prison.

Speaking to an attorney can help you to determine whether this claim is available to you.

How Can You Become Eligible Under the Acceptance of Responsibility Provision?

Acceptance of Responsibility requires that you must truthfully admit the conduct, must withdraw from criminal conduct and associations, and must voluntarily surrender and provide assistance to authorities.

In addition, you must undertake post-offense rehabilitative efforts such as drug rehabilitation, anger management therapy, or other conduct that shows an intention to change. Finally, all of this must be done in a timely manner. 

The decision to grant an Acceptance of Responsibility claim lies with the judge, even if the US Attorney’s Office may agree that the sentence could be reduced. If you are seeking a three-level reduction for a serious offense, the US Attorney’s Office must also submit their support for this to the judge.

If you plead guilty hoping to get a reduction in your sentence, this means that your case will not go to trial on the issue of your guilt or innocence. However, if there are related issues, it may still be possible to challenge related issues in court, such as deeper legal or constitutional issues, without threatening your sentence reduction. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on the particulars of your case.

How Likely Is It That A Reduction Will Be Granted?

Many Federal cases in the US are settled by plea bargain, meaning that it is likely that if you claim Acceptance of Responsibility you will be able to obtain a reduction in your sentence.

It is also important to know that the benefits of the “Acceptance of Responsibility” claim can be lost if you go on to deny related or relevant conduct, obstruct justice, or create more difficulties or frivolous denials in any other part of the trial. Essentially, a sentence reduction requires that you accept responsibility, and then continue to cooperate. 

It may not be in your best interests to file a claim for Acceptance of Responsibility, as it will depend on how much evidence the prosecution has against you, as well as other potentially mitigating factors. 

Get Help from a Board-Certified Attorney

If you want to find out more about your eligibility or suitability for filing a claim for Acceptance of Responsibility, Stechschulte Nell can help. Attorney Ben Stechschulte is a Florida board-certified trial lawyer and has brought over 60 cases to verdict. We are available 24/7 to take your call and discuss the specifics of your case. 

Contact our Tampa, FL law firm at (813) 280-1244 to speak to an experienced Federal defense attorney, or request a free case review online.

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