Litigation of criminal charges in federal court is not always in the best interests of the client. Conviction rates are higher than in state courts and the consequences more severe. While there are risks and opportunities present in both the plea agreement and criminal trial processes in either the state or federal settings, there can be distinct advantages in seeking a plea agreement within the federal system.
Acceptance of Responsibility
Federal sentencing guidelines establish specific terms of incarceration which must be served by individuals convicted of felonies and Class A misdemeanors within the federal court system. However, these ranges can be reduced by two levels through the Acceptance of Responsibility plea agreement process, resulting in a two to four year decrease in the sentence. When defendants accept responsibility for their actions early in the litigation process, they may qualify for this sentence reduction. The US Attorney’s Office can state their support of the Acceptance of Responsibility plea agreement but ultimately the judge adjudicating the matter will determine whether or not to allow the adjustment.
For serious crimes the sentence can be reduced by an additional level when specific guidelines are met. In this instance, the US Attorney’s Office must file a motion stating that the defendant accepts the terms of the Acceptance of Responsibility plea agreement. This level-three decrease can result in an overall reduction of the sentence by four to six years.
While the plea agreement process can benefit many clients, sometimes litigation is a better choice. During a trial the case could be dismissed, pertinent or exculpatory evidence might be found inadmissible, a defendant could be exonerated, or a defendant might receive a lesser sentence than he would have under a plea agreement. Even if a defendant is found guilty, he may still qualify for a reduction in his sentence under the Acceptance of Responsibility plea agreement process. Specific requirements must be met to receive the adjustment after the conclusion of a trial and the amount of the reduction will be less than it would have been prior to litigation.
Federal sentencing guidelines and the related Acceptance of Responsibility plea agreement process are specific to the federal court systems. Attorneys who work solely within a state’s criminal justice system are unlikely to understand the nuances of these procedures or appreciate the opportunities which may be afforded to defendants. Therefore it is critical that individuals facing criminal charges in federal court be represented by a board certified federal criminal defense attorney. These attorneys have the experience to evaluate the circumstances of a case, allowing them to determine which options are likely to produce the best outcome for the client. They also have the expertise to achieve their clients’ goals.