Federal Sentences May Include Punishments for Crimes You Didn’t CommitDec 18, 2017 by Criminal Defense in
In the United States, we cherish the principle that you can only be convicted of a crime if a prosecutor has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Unfortunately, at some stages of the criminal justice process, you can be saddled with criminal penalties and federal sentences because of facts that were not established under this demanding burden of proof.
In federal criminal cases, for example, judges are allowed to increase the severity of your sentence over facts that the prosecutor has established only by a preponderance of the evidence. This is the same standard of proof used in a civil case (sometimes referred to 50 per cent plus one) and much lower than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof for a criminal conviction.
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in California, call a Fresno federal crimes attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer right away. Call us today at (559) 443-7442 for a free case consultation.
Federal Sentencing Judges Consider Facts Not Established Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Imagine that a U.S. Attorney has charged you with drug trafficking and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Your criminal defense team manages to get you acquitted on the trafficking charge by proving that there was some reasonable doubt as to whether you sold drugs to another person. But the evidence was conclusive about you being a felon in possession of a gun. Accordingly, you are convicted on that count.
At your sentencing hearing for the felony possession of a firearm conviction, the judge admonishes you for your drug dealing activities and then adds a few years and a few thousand dollars to your sentence. You ask your lawyers to appeal your sentence, but they tell you that what the judge did was legal. The evidence showed that it was likely that you sold drugs, so the judge could add time and fines to your sentence.
Essentially, evidence that was not sufficient to result in your conviction for one crime may still be sufficient to increase the sentence given to you for another crime.
How Much Can a Judge Increase My Sentence Over Unproven Criminal Conduct?
If a judge disproportionately increases your sentence by taking into account facts other than the ones proven beyond a reasonable doubt, your lawyer may be able to have the sentence reversed. Facts that drastically add to a sentence must be proven by a higher standard of proof, such as clear and convincing evidence. Still, this is a far cry from the standard burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge overseeing your sentencing is authorized to consider any of the following factors when determining your sentence, so long as they have been established by a preponderance of the evidence:
- Any criminal acts that you committed, aided or abetted in, ordered, or willfully caused
- Any criminal acts committed by other people in connection to a joint criminal scheme with you
- Acts that were foreseeable consequences of your own criminal activity
- Acts that you committed during, in preparation for, or to avoid detection after the offense of which you were convicted
- The injuries and damage to property resulting from any of the above actions
Let’s return to the drug trafficking example. One of your associates allegedly murders a law enforcement officer during the drug raid that results in your arrest. Even though there is no evidence that you pulled the trigger, the judge sentencing you for drug trafficking will almost certainly increase your sentence because of the murder allegedly perpetrated by this other person.
The judge can even increase your sentence if your associate gets acquitted for this murder. As long as a preponderance of the evidence shows that you were dealing drugs with an associate and that this associate likely murdered the law enforcement officer, this fact can be considered at your sentencing.
You Need a Strong Defense Against Federal Charges
Getting charged with any crime is serious, but when you’re going up against the federal court system, the stakes are even higher. The conviction rate in federal criminal cases is greater than in state cases, the cost of litigation is higher, and the potential sentences are harsher. For these reasons, you should enlist the assistance of Fresno criminal defense attorney Mike McKneely.