Maryland Federal Sentencing
In the state of Maryland, federal sentencing guidelines apply to anyone who has been charged with a felony or a class A misdemeanor in federal court. These guidelines establish the types of penalties that a person convicted of a crime can face. Being convicted of a federal crime usually leads to very serious consequences, which can sometimes include decades or even life in prison. You need to understand what these sentencing guidelines mean for you, and how an attorney who represents clients in federal cases can help you.
Defendants in Maryland: Federal Sentencing Guidelines Impact Your Case
There are two systems of law in this country:
- State laws are passed by local legislatures and apply only within the borders of the state.
- Federal laws are passed by Congress and apply in every state.
Because the U.S. Constitution limits the power of the federal government, states make most of the laws that affect the public. This means that if you are charged with a crime, there is a good chance it is a state crime. Murder, prostitution, sex offenses, and property crimes are almost always prosecuted in state court. However, there are some acts that are illegal under federal laws. Drug crimes, computer crimes, economic crimes, and organized criminal activity often result in federal charges.
In 1984, the Sentencing Reform Act was passed to solve a problem that existed in the federal criminal justice system: sentencing disparity. People who were convicted of the same federal crimes were facing wildly different penalties, and a United States Sentencing Commission was created to establish determinate sentencing rules to impose more uniformity.
The Commission released a federal sentencing guidelines manual that listed offense categories and offender characteristics, such as prior offenses. There was an appropriate sentence specified for each class of person convicted of each type of offense.
Today, there are 43 different offense levels (wrongful and illegal acts) and six different criminal history categories. The higher the offense level, the more serious the crime. The more serious and extensive the past criminal record, the higher the criminal history points.
The Sentencing Table specifies a range of penalties for a defendant based on the relationship between the type of offense committed and the defendant’s criminal history. For example:
- Trespass has a base level offense of four. With no criminal history, penalties can include zero to six months of incarceration.
- Fraud has a base level offense of seven.
- Robbery has a base level of 20.
- Kidnapping has a base offense level of 32.
There are also a variety of factors that can raise or lower the offense level. For example, using a gun during a robbery brings the base level up to 25, while an offender accepting responsibility or proving only minimal involvement in committing a crime can lower the base level.
Applying the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were intended to be mandatory whenever someone was accused of a federal crime. However, in a 2005 case called United States v. Booker, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this requirement violated the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. Today, judges still use the Guidelines but can also consider a wider range of factors to determine whether a penalty is reasonable.
Unfortunately for defendants in Maryland, federal sentencing guidelines can still have undesirable consequences. One major issue is that there are mandatory minimum terms of incarceration for many offenses. Human Rights Watch found that federal prosecutors were essentially coercing drug defendants into plea-bargaining by threatening to charge them with crimes that had very long mandatory minimum sentences. As many as 97 percent of drug defendants plead guilty because prosecutors will offer much lower sentences to those who don’t challenge their charges in trial.
You need to understand how the guidelines impact you and what your rights are if you are charged with a federal crime. An experienced Maryland federal sentencing guidelines lawyer can assist you in understanding possible penalties you face and in exploring options to try to reduce the consequences of a conviction for a federal crime.