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How can an attorney help a defendant navigate sentencing guidelines?

In our last post, we spoke briefly about the public debate that is currently going on with respect to drug crime policy, specifically the effectiveness and fairness of mandatory minimum sentencing. As more changes continue happening at the state and federal level, the public debate is bound to continue and become a more mainstream discussion.  

Mandatory minimum sentencing is a feature of both federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing guidelines in Massachusetts. Mandatory minimums, as they are sometimes called, are based on both the seriousness of the offense for which the defendant is being charged and the defendant’s criminal history. For criminal defendants, navigating the sentencing guidelines with the help of an experienced advocate is essential in order to ensure that one’s rights and interests receive the advocacy they deserve. 

How exactly can an attorney help in this area, though? One way is by ensuring that the offense seriousness level is correctly calculated. At the state level as well as the federal level, offenses are ranked and categorized into varying levels of seriousness. Normally this is a fairly straightforward determination, but certain factors can come into play that require advocacy, such as staircasing. This term refers to the fact that some offenses may be assigned a higher offense level depending on certain factors unique to the case. An experienced attorney is able to advocate for a defendant with the aim of minimizing the applicable offense level during sentencing.

In our next post, we’ll pick back up on this topic and look at how defense advocacy can help with respect to the other factor impacting mandatory minimum sentencing: criminal history category.

Sources:

Massachusetts Court System, “Massachusetts Sentencing Guidelines,” Accessed Mar. 26, 2015.

United States Sentencing Commission, “Guidelines Manual,” Nov. 1, 2014. 

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