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How can an attorney help a defendant navigate sentencing guidelines?

The discussion in our last couple posts has been concerned with mandatory minimum sentencing, particularly the public debate concerning the fairness and effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes and why it is important for criminal defendants to work with an experienced advocate in navigating sentencing guidelines. Although our discussion has been more focused on how sentencing guidelines work in Massachusetts, much of what we are saying is also applicable to federal cases.

Picking up where we left off, the other factor impacting mandatory minimum sentencing, criminal history category, can also be positively affected by the advocacy of an experienced attorney. In placing a defendant in a criminal history group, judges must consider the defendant’s prior convictions based on the date of arraignment, assign the correct offense seriousness level for each incident based on the most serious offense for which the defendant was convicted, and determine the number of incidents at each offense seriousness level. 

While this seems straightforward enough, there are certain considerations that need to be taken into account depending on the case, such as situations where the defendant had multiple arraignment dates for a single criminal incident and cases where prior convictions involve staircasing. When it isn’t possible to determine exactly what factors led to staircasing for a prior offense, the conviction is supposed to be assigned the lowest seriousness level for that particularly crime. An advocate can work to make sure this occurs.

Another area where an advocate can be helpful in navigating sentencing guidelines is in arguing for downward departures when appropriate. In our next post, we’ll pick up on this topic. 

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