Sentencing: The Real Mystery

Is it possible to predict what sentence a defendant will receive?

Some criminal defense attorneys are so good at what they do that they can predict how a jury will decide. While no one can guarantee a specific outcome, having a clear picture of the chances of a conviction can be a valuable asset for a defendant and seriously affect his or her decision-making. What can be more complicated is predicting how the defendant might be sentenced. With state statutes, federal sentencing guidelines and the judge’s discretion in play, sentencing can be a real mystery.

Take, for example, the recent New Jersey case involving a conspiracy to back up traffic at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Top aide to Governor Chris Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, and former Deputy Director of the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, have both been convicted of planning to and actually creating a traffic jam in the area as revenge for a mayor not endorsing the Governor in his reelection bid. Both Kelly and Baroni were convicted of conspiracy and fraud relating to what has become known as the Bridgegate Scandal. For those convictions, Kelly and Baroni could face 20 years imprisonment under statute. But, the federal sentencing guidelines paint a much different picture. Under those guidelines, the pair could be facing only one to three years.

Prior to sentencing, both the prosecution and the defense examine each count and come up with a recommendation. A range of things come into play at this point, such as whether it is a first time offense and whether the offender “took responsibility” for his or her actions. The judge takes these into account and then has a wide range of discretion in making his determination, but must stay within the sentencing guidelines. So, the determination is subjective in some aspects and directed by statute in others. These characteristics can make predicting a sentence a very difficult task.

You should know that those with experience are usually the best able to predict a sentence. Therefore, if you have been charged with a criminal offense, especially a felony, and you want to further understand your options, you should speak to a seasoned criminal defense attorney right away.