Federal Criminal Pleas and Sentencing
What is Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C)?
In United States district courts, federal criminal prosecutions are governed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. When referring to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, courts and attorneys typically use the abbreviation Fed. R. Crim. P.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c) outlines the proper legal procedures for plea agreements. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) is an important subsection of that rule, which can be highly beneficial for defendants under certain circumstances.
Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are permitted to agree that a specific sentence or sentencing range is an appropriate outcome for a case. The rule also allows government attorneys and the defense to stipulate regarding the application of Sentencing Guidelines, policies, and sentencing factors.
How are Federal Criminal Sentences Determined?
In federal cases, courts consider a variety of factors before sentencing a defendant. These considerations include statutory sentencing ranges, the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines, the Presentence Investigation (PSI), and mitigating/aggravating factors.
Statutory sentencing ranges are codified laws which provide minimum and maximum possible sentences for specific charges. Every federal criminal charge has a sentencing range defined by statute.
The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines were created by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is a bipartisan independent agency of the judicial branch of the U.S. Government. The Guidelines establish uniform sentencing policies and practices for federal courts. Although they must be taken into consideration, the Sentencing Guidelines are only recommendations. Judges do have discretion to sentence defendants outside of the Guidelines' ranges.
A Presentence Investigation or “PSI” is a report that is submitted to the court by the probation department. A PSI provides courts with information that should be considered at sentencing, such as the defendant's personal history, support system, and likelihood of reoffending. That information is used to make a sentencing recommendation by applying the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Aggravating and mitigating factors are specific details about a defendant's conduct which can affect sentencing. Aggravating factors can result in a more severe punishment, whereas mitigating factors can result in a more lenient sentence.
Despite these factors, judges still have plenty of discretion when deciding on a sentence. That can make accepting a plea offer a risky decision for defendants because so much remains unknown about the possible consequences. Fortunately, Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) makes it possible to limit sentencing ranges upon agreement of the defendant and the Government.
How Can Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) Impact Sentencing?
If a U.S. attorney and a defendant reach an agreement regarding a sentence or sentencing range, a Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement can be presented to the judge for consideration. Judges have discretion to accept or reject such plea agreements. However, if and when a judge does decide to accept a plea agreement under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), the court becomes bound by the proposed sentencing range.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C), can greatly limit a judge's discretion at sentencing. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule, whereby a judge can decline to abide by the sentencing ranges in the accepted plea agreement. A court is not bound by the plea agreement if a more lenient sentence is recommended according to U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Other exceptions include overwhelmingly compelling circumstances and/or agreements that violate the U.S. Constitution.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) can be a useful tool for defendants and their attorneys. Under federal law, there can often be a wide variety of sentencing possibilities. A plea made under Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) can limit sentencing to a narrower range, potentially preventing a judge from issuing the most severe penalty.
Do you know someone who is facing federal charges? Contact Attorney Christopher Fogt to ensure they receive a just and equitable outcome.