27 Nov 23

Understanding Philadelphia Federal Sentencing Guidelines by Crime

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Last Updated on: 4th January 2024, 08:45 pm


Understanding Philadelphia Federal Sentencing Guidelines by Crime

Navigating federal sentencing guidelines can be complicated, especially when you’re facing charges in Philadelphia. This article provides a helpful overview of how sentencing works for different types of federal crimes charged in the Philadelphia area.

How Federal Sentencing Works

Federal judges use sentencing guidelines to determine the appropriate punishment for a crime. The guidelines provide a sentencing range based on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Judges have some flexibility to impose sentences within or outside the recommended range.

In Philadelphia federal court, judges refer to the US Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual. This manual provides detailed rules on calculating sentencing ranges for different offenses. The manual gets updated annually, so it’s important to consult the current version.

Sentencing Factors

Several key factors impact the sentencing range under the guidelines, including:

  • The offense level – which depends on the specific crime, amount of drugs or money involved, use of weapons, role in the offense, etc.
  • The defendant’s criminal history score – determined by any prior convictions
  • Whether the defendant pleads guilty or goes to trial
  • Acceptance of responsibility by the defendant
  • Any grounds for departure from the guidelines

By plugging these factors into the sentencing table in the guidelines manual, you can estimate the sentencing range for a federal case in Philadelphia. The range will be expressed in months of imprisonment.

Philadelphia Federal Crimes and Sentencing

Here is an overview of sentencing guidelines and outcomes for some major federal crimes prosecuted in Philadelphia:

Drug Trafficking

Drug offenses make up a large portion of the federal docket in Philadelphia. Trafficking charges often involve controlled substances like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

The offense level for drug crimes depends on the type and quantity of drugs involved. The more serious the drug and the larger the amount, the higher the offense level and sentencing range. For example, trafficking just 5 grams of meth yields a much lower range than 500 grams.

First-time offenders convicted of low-level drug crimes might face 12-18 months in prison under the guidelines. Major traffickers can face 20 years or more. Mandatory minimum sentences also kick in for large drug quantities, limiting judges’ discretion.

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Federal fraud charges in Philadelphia commonly involve schemes to defraud Medicare/Medicaid, lenders, investors, or the IRS. Offense levels for fraud hinge on the amount of loss and number of victims.

Low-level frauds netting under $6,500 would have a base offense level of 6, while frauds causing losses over $550 million hit the max level of 43. The guidelines provide complex rules for calculating loss and other factors.

First-time offenders convicted of frauds under $40,000 may receive little or no prison time, while loss amounts over $25 million can warrant life sentences. The average fraud sentence in Philadelphia federal court falls around 5 years.

Firearms Offenses

Federal gun cases generally target prohibited persons found illegally possessing firearms, drug traffickers using guns, and interstate gun trafficking. Key factors include:

  • The number and type of firearms (more guns = higher level)
  • Use of guns in other crimes (increases level)
  • Criminal history score (past convictions increase range)

So a convicted felon caught with a single pistol may only face 18-24 months, while an armed drug dealer with multiple assault rifles and a violent record could see 15+ years.

Child Pornography

Child porn cases prosecuted in Philadelphia federal court typically involve distribution and possession of sexually explicit images and videos of minors. The guidelines provide enhancements for factors like the content depicting violence or children under 12.

First-time child porn offenders often face around 5 years in prison. But defendants with prior sex offense convictions or over 600 images can receive decades-long sentences despite no physical contact with victims.

White Collar Crime

In Philadelphia, common white collar federal cases include bribery, embezzlement, tax evasion, insider trading, identity theft, and cybercrime. Sentences vary based on amounts involved and sophistication of the schemes, among other factors.

While high-level corporate executives may evade prison for some schemes, most face incarceration. For example, an accountant caught evading $100,000 in taxes would likely see 10-16 months under the guidelines. Harsher punishment applies to public corruption like bribery.

Going Outside the Guidelines

While the guidelines provide starting benchmarks, federal judges can exercise discretion to go higher or lower based on the facts. Downward departures may reward cooperation, reflect overstated losses, or mitigate extreme hardship. Upward departures can address harm not accounted for in the offense level.

Mandatory minimums also sometimes force judges to issue higher sentences than guidelines recommend. On the other hand, the First Step Act expanded early release opportunities for some drug offenders.

Getting Help with Federal Charges

If you or a loved one face federal prosecution in Philadelphia, having an experienced attorney’s help can make all the difference at sentencing. A lawyer can identify grounds for reduced charges or departures from the guidelines and advocate effectively for the most lenient sentence.

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Don’t leave the fate of your case up to chance – get a free case evaluation from a Philadelphia federal defense lawyer today.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute formal legal advice. If you face criminal charges, consult a qualified attorney in your area for counsel about your specific case.


2018 Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual
List of Controlled Substances
Fraud and Child Porn Sentencing Rules
First Step Act