The Reality Of Federal Court

Once you are indicted in federal criminal court, you have three options. None of the three is easy. The first option is to litigate your case. The second option is to plead guilty and cooperate. The third option is to plead guilty and not cooperate. The following sections will discuss each of these options in greater detail. It is always your choice in deciding which path to choose. We are here to offer you guidance.

Litigation

Litigation may mean several different things. At the outset it could mean that a federal defendant declines the option of cooperating with the government. From that point, it could also mean that a federal defendant may file a motion to suppress, if warranted, and/or proceed to trial. If a federal defendant wins his or her jury trial there will be no sentencing and he or she is free. If a federal defendant loses his or her jury trial in part or in whole he or she will be scheduled for sentencing approximately 75 days from the date of his or her conviction. Typically, a federal defendant will receive a harsher sentence if convicted of some or all charges at the conclusion of a jury trial. Therein, lays the rub. A not guilty verdict brings freedom while a conviction brings the harsh reality of imprisonment.

O'Brien Hatfield, PA's Note: If you are considering a federal criminal defense attorney verify that he has federal trial experience and that he has actually been successful in a federal jury trial. We do, and we have. And also make sure your attorney has been a lead trial attorney not just a second chair attorney who did nothing during the trial.

Substantial Assistance

Substantial Assistance, cooperation or earning a 5k1.1 or Rule 35 all essentially mean the same thing: a federal defendant works with federal agents to solve his or other cases. Substantial assistance is a highly effective way of reducing a federal defendant's sentence. It allows a district court judge to sentence a federal defendant below any mandatory minimum in place and also allows a district court judge to depart downward from the advisory guideline range. The benefit is the potential for time off of a federal defendant's sentence. The risk is danger to himself or herself or his or her family at the hands of those individuals he or she is cooperating against. This is a highly personal decision that should be based upon the facts of each federal defendant's case and not on rap lyrics or movie scripts. It should be made by a federal defendant after careful consideration of his situation.

O'Brien Hatfield, PA's Note: A district court may give a greater downward departure under section 5k1.1 of the advisory federal sentencing guidelines than the government requests. We routinely accomplish this and it benefits our clients a great deal.

3553(a) Downward Variance

A 3553(a) downward variance request is made pursuant to 18 United States Code Section 3553(a). The post-Booker world has changed the landscape for a federal defendant. While the federal sentencing guideline system is still in place, it is now advisory not mandatory. This is a huge step forward for federal defendants. This allows a federal defendant to offer mitigation pursuant to statute that a district court must consider at sentencing. The goal is sentence a federal defendant so that he receives a reasonable but not greater than necessary sentence. A smart defense counsel will latch onto this phrase and not let go.

O'Brien Hatfield, PA's Note: A district court may vary downward pursuant to the 3553(a) factors. We have accomplished this in 70 percent of our cases since 2006. It requires thinking outside the box and hard work but it is worth it when our clients receive a sentence lower than what they otherwise would have received.