Former Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. was recently sentenced at a federal courthouse for one count of conspiracy to mis-use campaign funds. With Mr. Jackson, Jr. having pleaded guilty earlier this year, most of the recent work done by his lawyers had to do with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Guidelines are used in almost all federal criminal cases and are a means by which the judge decides the prison sentence of a person convicted of a federal crime.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were formally adopted in 1987. The Guidelines consist of a series of points and point deductions that assist a judge in deciding what prison term is appropriate for an individual convicted of a certain crime. The Guidelines include a base level of points, based on the crime itself; a set of additional points, or aggravating circumstances that can increase a defendant’s prison time; and a series of mitigating factors, or deductions, that lower the potential amount of jail time that a judge can sentence to a particular defendant.
Until 2005, the Guidelines were mandatory. Thus, at sentencing, the prosecution would present information on the underlying offense and any aggravating points, such as whether the crime was a crime of violence or whether the defendant was a habitual offender. The defense would generally present information on the mitigating circumstances in order to lower the overall “points” associated with a certain crime. Such mitigating circumstances include age, lack of prior criminal history, and cooperation with the government. The ultimate sentence imposed was a result of mathematics, with the judge or jury determining whether certain aggravating or mitigating factors existed.
In 2005, the Supreme Court in United States v. Booker said that the mandatory use of the Guidelines violated a Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. However, the Guidelines remain in use today, and can serve as the basis of a judge’s initial decision. Thus, in the Jesse Jackson, Jr. case, the judge considered the Guidelines before sentencing Jackson to 30 months in federal prison.
The criminal law attorneys at the Birmingham firm of Parkman and White, LLC are experienced in interpreting the Guidelines, and arriving at the lowest possible amount of jail time (or probation) for defendants who are not acquitted completely.