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Using Family Circumstances to Lower Your Federal Criminal Sentence

November 1, 2021 Federal Criminal Attorneys
Using Family Circumstances to Lower Your Federal Criminal Sentence
When a judge issues a sentence for the conviction of a federal crime, the law permits some flexibility. The judge may take into account a variety of factors when considering how long the federal prison sentence for a particular crime should be. In some cases, a person’s family circumstances may play a role in the judge’s sentencing decision. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it would take some unusual or extremely extenuating circumstances to make a significant impact in a judge’s sentence for a federal crime. If you believe that your family circumstances warrant special consideration, your attorney may be able to argue for this on your behalf. Here are a few of the family circumstances that might warrant extra attention from the judge.

Single Parent

If a single or widowed parent of children under the age of 18 commits a federal crime and is found guilty, the judge may consider this family circumstance when issuing a sentence. If no other suitable family member is available to care for the child, the child would have to go into the foster care system. Given the dire state of the American foster care system, this would be an unsuitable situation for most children. In such a case, the judge may use considerable leniency when issuing the sentence for the crime.

Child With Severe Illness or Disability

A child with a severe illness or disability requires extra attention. In many cases, the parent is the one who provides the majority of the child’s care on a daily basis. If a parent of a child with a severe illness or disability is convicted of a federal crime, the judge may take this family circumstance into consideration when sentencing the individual for their crime. In order to make this argument, the individual’s attorney may need to call in medical expert witnesses and have the child’s medical records available for the court’s review. In Federal Sentencing Review, Eleanor Bush argues that the judge must weigh the cost of keeping the parent away from the child against the societal expectation of serving time for the crime.

Only Breadwinner in the Household

When sentencing an individual for a federal crime, a judge might consider whether the individual is the only breadwinner in the household and how many people their income must support. For example, some people provide the only income for a multi-generational home. If the convicted individual has a spouse who is unable to work, the judge may consider this family circumstance. However, the family would have to prove to the court that prison time would cause undue harm to the other members of the household. The court might require extensive proof of any other adult’s inability to maintain employment. Such proof could include documentation of disability from the Veteran’s Administration or the Social Security Administration.

Terminally Ill Dependent

A judge may be able to defer prison time if a convicted individual has a terminally ill spouse, parent or child. The individual and their lawyer would need proof of the terminal illness and the person’s estimated remaining lifespan. For example, if the individual’s spouse has cancer and is receiving hospice care, the judge might defer the prison time until the spouse’s death. The person may be sentenced to house arrest until the time of the spouses death, then they would be required to turn themselves in to authorities to serve the remainder of their sentence in a federal prison.

Birth of a Child

Rarely, a judge might reduce or postpone a federal sentence if a person is expecting the birth of their first child or if their spouse is about to deliver their first child. The convicted individual might be allowed to deliver the child and report for their sentencing after birth. If the convicted individual’s spouse is expecting their child, the individual may be permitted to attend the birth before reporting to prison.

Individual’s Terminal Illness

If the individual convicted of a federal crime has a terminal illness, the law may provide the judge with some leeway in considering this circumstance. Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute states that a judge may be able to adjust a sentence within one year of the original sentence if the person receives special information about their own or their family’s situation. A terminal illness of the convicted individual or their dependent within one year of the sentencing may qualify for a reduction of the original sentence.

Exclusion of Family in the Trial

If the defendant’s family was not included in the trial, a lawyer may be able to argue for a reduction in the sentence by filing an appeal under the sixth amendment of the United States Constitution. This amendment gives everyone the right to a fair trial.

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