In our last post, we briefly touched on the topic of downward departures, which are deviations from the federal sentencing guidelines favoring an individual convicted of a crime. Downward departures, when appropriate, reduce an offender’s sentence, thus minimizing the penalty associated with conviction. Judges have discretion to deviate from sentencing guidelines under certain circumstances, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys are able to provide their input regarding the propriety of a downward departure.
Needless to say, a judge’s decision to grant a downward departure is not always supported by prosecutors, and judge who are too lenient with reduced sentencing can come under fire. At present, a Florida judge is currently under scrutiny by the Florida Attorney General’s Office for providing a public defense attorney with email advice about how to word motions for downward departures. The Attorney General is reportedly accusing the judge of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct, and wants the judge to step down from taking criminal cases.
Supporters of the judge say that the accusations of favoritism and the request to have him step down from criminal cases is an overreaction, even if the email communication was improper. For his part, the judge has refused to voluntarily step down. Time will tell what the ultimate outcome will be.
For criminal defense attorneys, it is important to understand how to work with a judge to have the best possible chance of pursuing any motion successfully. Strong advocacy, of course, requires not only technical knowledge of the legal process and the law, but also ethical conduct so as to avoid any improprieties. Our firm combines a strong ethical sensibility with zealous advocacy to see to it that our clients have the best possible shot in court.