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Frequently Asked Questions About Downward Departures in Federal Sentencing

In 1987 Congress passed sentencing guidelines establishing the maximum and minimum punishments that people should receive for federal crimes. The guidelines take into account the severity of the crime and the defendant's past criminal record to come up with a suggested sentence. However, there are certain factors that will allow a judge to make a downward departure from the suggested minimum sentence for a federal criminal offense.

What Is a Downward Departure?

A downward departure is when the judge gives a defendant a sentence that is lower than the minimum sentence suggested by the guidelines. The court may grant a motion for a downward departure by either the prosecuting or defense attorney if the court believes that justice demands it.

When Does a Defendant Receive a Downward Departure?

Some of the reasons that a judge would give a defendant a downward departure in a sentence are:

  • If the defendant offered substantial assistance to the government in its investigation of the crime
  • If the defendant voluntarily disclosed the offense
  • If the defendant accepted responsibility for the offense
  • If the defendant committed the offense with diminished capacity
  • If the defendant was coerced or under duress when committing the offense
  • If the defendant's age means that the sentencing guideline minimum would effectively be a life sentence
  • If the defendant has a history of good works or charitable efforts
  • If the criminal behavior was "aberrant" for the defendant
  • The totality of the circumstances call for a downward departure

Consult an Attorney

Federal criminal offenses are serious matters. Those charged with federal crimes need the help of an attorney who can advocate for them with the court to make sure that the court considers all of the exigent circumstances during sentencing. If you are facing federal criminal charges, do not hesitate to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case.