Federal court is an intimidating place for any defendant and even quite a few lawyers. One reason is that federal district judges are appointed for life so there’s little to keep them from saying or doing what they please in open court. However, federal judges have surprisingly limited discretion when it comes to the most important aspect of their jobs – criminal sentencing.
Federal sentencing is fundamentally based on very strict federal sentencing guidelines. In the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, federal judges may sentence under the minimum mandatory range if and only if a permissible reason can be found within the framework of the federal sentencing guidelines. Too often prosecutors determine the sentencing outcome in federal cases during the grand jury indictment stage of the process.
This means that in the Middle District of Florida defense counsel should be hired as soon as a federal defendant receives a target letter from the federal prosecutor. A target letter is not a requirement for a federal indictment and in most federal cases a target letter is not even sent. A target letter gives written notice that the federal government not only intends to soon take the case to a federal grand jury but strongly believes that the grand jury will indict based on the evidence available.
Target letters are typically sent in complex nonviolent federal criminal cases such as conspiracy to commit fraud, theft or scheme to defraud where the investigation may have been going on for many months or years. In these cases there may be incentive for prosecutors to give notice of future indictments in hopes of securing early pleas of guilty for low level defendants in an effort to secure convictions for those higher in the chain of command and knowledge within the conspiracy.
At the end of federal cases it’s always interesting to see which defendants received the longest prison terms and who got the best results. It’s a testament to the unfairness of the criminal justice system that it’s not unusual for some of the higher level conspirators who gained the most from the fraud to serve the least time. How can this be? Because their criminal defense lawyer understood the actual risks, knew what to do and when to do it; whereas other defendants simply failed to make the right decisions at the right time. It’s not just knowing how to win at federal trial that best serves a federal defendant; it’s also knowing when to fold and how to do it in such a way as to get the best possible result.
Clearly, it’s vital to find a knowledgeable lawyer. Your lawyer will weigh the facts against the federal law to help you make a determination as to whether it is better to fight the charges with the risk of indictment for more significant crimes or to work with the federal prosecutors to forestall the indictment by pleading to a lesser federal crime. The Florida federal defense lawyer you choose should have ample experience with multiple federal criminal trials as well as an understanding of the federal sentencing guidelines. If you or someone you care about has received a target letter from the federal prosecutors at the United States Attorney’s Office, call Robert Hambrick today and he’ll help you make some of the most important decisions of your life.