Federal Pretrial Primer 2: Pleas, Sentencing and Designation

This is the second of three articles written by the prison consulting firm PCR Consultants which deals with the federal pretrial phase of an inmate’s federal prison experience. Here we’ll look at what you can expect, how you’re odds are for beating an indictment, and how you can help yourself before leaving for prison.

The first hard truth that needs to be dealt with is an impending conviction. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93.6% of all federal defendants plead guilty at some point before trial. All federal district court cases are prosecuted by the local U.S. Attorney, and some places, like the Northern District of Illinois (lead by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald) boast over a 97% conviction rate.

This creates an environment that encourages plea bargains because nobody wants to go up against those kinds of odds, but those odds are greatly bolstered by guilty pleas. Regardless of the chicken or egg argument, if you are indicted by the United States Attorney you most likely will end up with a Felony Conviction. This also probably means a stay, long or short, in federal prison.

Three events make up this federal pretrial time-line. First is the plea hearing, followed by trial and/or sentencing hearing (depending on the plea). The process ends with a simple letter from the federal Bureau of Prisons alerting the convicted of where they will be serving their sentence.

These events carry with them a possibility for better or worse outcomes, depending on how they are dealt with. A plea bargain is rather routine, but normally is negotiated very aggressively by the assigned Assistant U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting the case. Knowing if you are getting a good bargain or a bad one is difficult. This is probably the first time a defendant has been in this position before and hasn’t studied other cases like theirs to check if a similar case was given a better deal.

Realize that prosecutors are recognized by both their conviction rates AND the length of sentences they average. This is a negotiation like anything else and they want the most time in prison with the least amount of work they can get away with. However, this is a pitfall in and of itself because a wrong step can remove the plea bargain option altogether.

Next is the sentencing after plea or trial. Sentences can become much more strict if the defendant forces trial, and leniency in sentencing at that point is solely at the discretion of the presiding judge. On the other hand, sentencing after a cooperative plea hearing is automatically reduced just for cooperating with the U.S. Attorney, and different legal avenues can be used, depending on the situation, to abolish ugly things like “Mandatory Minimum” sentences. Does your attorney know how to use these avenues? Can your attorney effectively calculate your sentencing guidelines?

A prison consultant can work with you to be a second opinion, using real-world experiences backed by solid law, to make sure that you are getting the best possible sentence, and even garnering reductions in that sentence with their personal conduct while on pretrial status.

***Years of your life can be saved by knowing even the smallest details that your lawyer may not know***

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