What are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Fraud Cases?

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a set of rules used by judges in the United States to determine the nature and length of sentences recommended for defendants convicted of federal crimes, including fraud. The guidelines were established to provide consistency in sentencing.  


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we vigorously represent people facing federal indictment for fraud in the Florida federal courts. It’s important for anyone charged with federal fraud crimes to understand every part of the criminal justice system, especially the federal sentencing guidelines and how they are applied to each case. If you are charged with fraud by federal prosecutors in Florida, contact Stechschulte Nell for reliable and effective federal criminal defense representation. 




How Do Federal Sentencing Guidelines Work? 


The Federal Sentencing Guidelines (FSGs) are a series of non-binding rules adopted by the federal government to encourage uniformity in sentencing of criminal defendants by federal judges. They consider a list of factors scored and added together to identify an appropriate sentencing range. 


When it comes to fraud cases, the guidelines consider various factors that can influence the severity of the sentences, such as the amount of money involved, the number of victims, and whether the fraud involved sophisticated means. 


The court and both prosecution and defense counsel use the FSGs to establish the “base offense level” of the crime charged. Each federal criminal statute is included in one of the FSG categories. The base-level offense has a sentencing range assigned. The initial base-level sentence may then be enhanced by the individual circumstances present in the defendant’s case. Similarly, mitigating factors may decrease a sentence that was enhanced by a different, aggravating factor.  


Key Factors Influencing Sentencing in Fraud Cases 


The Amount Lost by the Victims: The monetary value of the loss caused by fraud is a primary factor in determining the base offense level. The higher the loss amount, the higher the offense level, leading to a longer potential sentence. 


The Number of Victims: The number of people or entities harmed by fraud affects the offense level. Cases involving multiple victims will increase the offense to higher sentencing ranges. 


How Sophisticated Was the Scheme: The use of sophisticated means to perpetrate the fraud can result in an upward adjustment of the offense level. This includes complex schemes that are more difficult to detect. The focus on a scheme’s sophistication is intended to recognize when the defendant needed to plan extensively and apply skill to perpetrate the schemes. The extra planning and skill render the offense that much more deliberate and justifies more severe punishment. 


The Defendant’s Role in the Offense: The defendant’s role in fraud also affects the sentencing. This factor recognizes that individuals who become reluctant participants or tangential actors in the fraudulent scheme should be distinguished from the leaders of fraud in their sentences. The FSGs recommend that a defendant who is a leading organizer and driver of the scheme receive a sentence enhancement. 


Whether There Was an Abuse of Trust: Defendants who abuse a position of trust to facilitate the fraud may receive harsher sentences, reflecting the betrayal of trust inherent in such offenses. However, the abuse of trust enhancement will only apply when the defendant’s position of trust played a significant role in their commission of the crime. This “trust” means that the person abused their special position by which they gained access or evaded supervision.  


This would not apply to an ordinary bank teller who embezzles funds. But it would apply to a bank’s loan department manager who used his special role to fraudulently approve fake loans to phantom borrowers and used the money to benefit themselves.  


The Intended Loss: The guidelines consider not just the actual loss but also the intended loss, meaning what the defendant hoped to gain or cause others to lose, which can impact the sentence if the intended loss is greater than the actual loss. 


This sentencing factor considers the idea that a defendant should not benefit from their own failure. If the evidence proves that the defendant intended to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars from hundreds of victims, but they were discovered and arrested after only victimizing a few targets, the sentence can be enhanced in recognition of their more culpable ultimate goal. 


Calculation of Sentences 


The calculation of sentences under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines involves determining the base offense level, which is then adjusted upward or downward based on specific offense details. Once the offense level is determined based on all the factors considered, then the defendant is assigned a criminal history score based on their previous criminal records. The final sentence guideline recommendation is based on the combination of the offense level and the defendant’s criminal history score. 


The resulting sentence recommendation is expressed as a period of incarceration for a range of months, including a low-end recommendation and a high-end recommendation.  


Departures and Variances from the FSG’s Recommended Sentence 


Judges have the discretion to depart from the guideline range in certain circumstances. They can do this when there are significant mitigating or aggravating factors not considered by the guidelines.  


Until 2005, the FSGs were mandatory and permitted judges very little discretion in applying the strict sentencing formulas dictated by the guidelines. Then, the Supreme Court of the United States, in United States v. Booker (2005), made the guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, allowing judges to impose variances from the guidelines based on the specifics of the case and the factors outlined in the federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)). The factors include the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history, and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, and the need to provide restitution to any victims of the offense. 



The Need for Experienced Federal Fraud Criminal Defense 


The complexity and periodic revision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines means that your criminal defense lawyer must have an exhaustive knowledge of recent changes to the FSGs and be experienced in using the guidelines to benefit you as the defendant. They must also be experienced enough to reliably predict the sentence range you want to face under the FSGs when applied to the facts of your case. An attorney who misunderstands or applies the guidelines in error can mistakenly lead their client to make unwise decisions only to be surprised by a harsher sentence than they thought possible. 


Always insist that your federal fraud criminal defense lawyer has the legal expertise and practical courtroom experience to provide you with the soundest, most reliable legal guidance.  


Give Stechschulte Nell Law a call for a case review today at 813-280-1244. We have offices in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami and are ready to fight for your rights.  

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