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South Carolina Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Understanding South Carolina Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The Basics of Federal Sentencing

First off, it’s important to understand that federal judges have to follow the Federal Sentencing Guidelines when deciding on a sentence.1 These guidelines were created back in the 80s to try to make sentencing more consistent across the country.4

Here’s the gist of how the guidelines work:

  • Every federal crime is assigned a base offense level, from 1-43. The more serious the crime, the higher the level.17
  • The judge then looks at specific characteristics of the crime to see if the level should be adjusted up or down. Things like how much money was involved in a fraud case, or if a gun was used in a robbery.7
  • The defendant’s criminal history is also a big factor. There are six criminal history categories, from I (little to no record) to VI (lengthy record).711
  • The judge uses a sentencing table to find the range of months that matches up with the final offense level and criminal history category.17 For example, an offense level of 22 with a criminal history category of I would mean 41-51 months in prison.12

So in a nutshell, the meat of the guidelines is the offense level + criminal history category = sentencing range. But hang on, because it’s not quite that simple.

Mandatory Minimums & Maximums

For certain crimes, Congress has set mandatory minimum and maximum sentences that the judge has to stick to, regardless of what the guidelines say.4 Drug cases are the big one where this comes into play. In South Carolina, mandatory minimums for drug trafficking can be pretty harsh. For example:18

  • Trafficking 10-100 lbs of marijuana = mandatory 1-10 years
  • Trafficking 100-2,000 lbs of marijuana = mandatory 25 years
  • Trafficking 10-28 grams of cocaine/heroin = mandatory 3-10 years
  • Trafficking 28-100 grams of cocaine/heroin = mandatory 7-25 years

So if the guidelines say 41-51 months for a drug offense, but the mandatory minimum is 5 years, the judge‘s hands are tied – it has to be at least 5 years. Same goes if there‘s a mandatory maximum that‘s lower than what the guidelines recommend.

Departures & Variances

The guidelines are meant to be, well, guidelines. They’re not set in stone. Judges can depart from the guideline range if there are mitigating or aggravating circumstances that aren’t fully captured by the guidelines.1Some common reasons a judge might depart downward:

  • The defendant played a minor role in the offense
  • The defendant cooperated with authorities
  • The defendant has significant family responsibilities
  • The defendant has mental or physical health issues

And some reasons they might depart upward:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
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Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
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Loveth Okpedo
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Bee L
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divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • The crime resulted in significant harm or loss
  • The defendant was a leader or organizer
  • The defendant obstructed justice
  • The defendant’s criminal history is underrepresented

There’s no set formula for departures – it’s up to the judge to decide how much to deviate from the guidelines based on the specific facts of the case. In South Carolina, judges tend to be somewhat conservative with departures compared to other parts of the country.20 Judges can also vary from the guidelines based on the overall purposes of sentencing, like the need to protect the public, deter crime, or rehabilitate the offender.1 These variances don‘t require the same specific justification as departures.

Real Talk About Federal Sentencing

No two cases are exactly alike, and judges have a lot of discretion to do what they think is right within the framework of the law. So while the guidelines provide a starting point, the final sentence is going to depend a lot on the specific judge and the unique facts of the case. That said, there are some general trends we can point to in South Carolina. Compared to other districts, judges here tend to be pretty “guidelines-compliant,” meaning they stick fairly close to the recommended range.20 That’s especially true for drug and gun cases, which make up a big chunk of the federal docket. According to the most recent data from the US Sentencing Commission, the average sentence for a federal drug trafficking case in South Carolina was about 92 months (7.5 years).15 For comparison, the national average was about 76 months. So we‘re a bit higher than the norm.For gun cases, the average sentence in SC was 64 months, compared to 50 months nationally.15 Again, a bit on the high side. Of course, those are just averages – there‘s a wide range of sentences in any given category. It all comes down to the specifics of the case.

Advice for Navigating Federal Sentencing

If you‘re facing federal sentencing in South Carolina, the best advice I can give you is to work closely with your lawyer to put together the strongest possible case for a lower sentence. That means:

  • Making sure all the guideline calculations are done correctly. Mistakes can happen, and they can make a big difference.
  • Gathering evidence of mitigating factors that could justify a downward departure or variance. Think character letters, proof of employment, health records, etc.
  • Considering whether cooperation with the government is an option. It’s not for everyone, but it can lead to a significant sentence reduction in some cases.
  • Being realistic about what’s possible. In most cases, some prison time is going to be required. It’s important to have a clear-eyed view of the likely outcome.

At the end of the day, federal sentencing is a high-stakes and complex process. But with a good lawyer and a proactive approach, it’s possible to advocate for a fair outcome – even in a tough jurisdiction like South Carolina.

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