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Federal Sentencing Day refers to the day on which a defendant who has been convicted of a federal crime—whether by pleading guilty or being found guilty after a trial—is sentenced by a federal judge. This is a critical phase in the criminal justice process, and it’s the culmination of the court’s evaluation of the case, the nature of the crime, the defendant’s background, and other relevant factors.

Here’s an outline of what typically happens on the day of sentencing in federal court:

Preparation Before Sentencing

Prior to sentencing, a pre-sentence investigation report (PSR) is prepared by the Probation Office. This report includes information about the defendant’s criminal history, personal background, the characteristics of the offense, and potential sentencing guidelines or enhancements. Both the defense and the prosecution have the opportunity to review and challenge the facts presented in the PSR.

The Sentencing Hearing

Opening of the Hearing: The hearing begins with the court calling the case, and the defendant is brought before the judge.

Determination of Disputes: If there are any unresolved disputes about the PSR or the application of the sentencing guidelines, these issues are typically addressed first.

Allocution: The defendant is often given the opportunity to speak directly to the court. This is known as the defendant’s right of allocution. The defendant can express remorse, explain circumstances, or provide personal insights that might affect the judge’s sentencing decision.

Arguments from Both Sides: The prosecution and defense have the opportunity to make their final sentencing arguments. The prosecution may emphasize the severity of the offense and the need for deterrence, while the defense may highlight factors that could warrant a more lenient sentence.

Victim Impact Statements: In cases involving victims, those victims may be allowed to make statements regarding the impact the crime has had on their lives. These statements can be powerful and influence the severity of the sentence.

Judge’s Sentencing: The judge will issue the sentence, which may include prison time, probation, fines, restitution to victims, community service, or other penalties. The sentence is influenced by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide a range for each type of offense, although the judge has discretion to deviate from these guidelines in certain circumstances.

Explanation of the Sentence:

Federal judges are required to explain the reasons for the sentence they impose. The explanation should address the factors set out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), which include the nature of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, to provide just punishment, to afford adequate deterrence, to protect the public, and to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment.

Advisement of Appeal Rights: The judge will typically inform the defendant of their right to appeal the sentence if they believe there has been a procedural error, an incorrect application of the sentencing guidelines, or an unreasonable sentence.

Conclusion of the Hearing: Once the sentence has been imposed, the hearing is concluded. If the sentence includes imprisonment, the defendant may be taken into custody immediately, or they might be allowed to report to prison at a later date.

Post-Sentencing

After sentencing, the defense attorney will discuss the outcome and next steps with the defendant, including whether there are grounds for an appeal and the process for doing so. If the defendant has been allowed to remain free until reporting to prison, they must comply with all the conditions set by the court and report to the designated facility on time to avoid additional penalties.

Federal Sentencing Day is a formal, and often emotional, procedure. Defendants, their families, the victims, and the legal teams involved are all profoundly affected by the outcome of this proceeding. It marks the final decision of the court after considering the full scope of the defendant’s conduct and its impact on society.

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