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How Do Judges Determine Sentences for White Collar Crime?

| Oct 16, 2020 | White Collar Offenses |

2020 has been a year for headline news stories, include cases of white-collar crime. From federal level fraud to media antitrust cases, sentencing comes under close review. When comparing punishments for white collar crime to routine criminal activity, it can be challenging to identify how federal courts determine sentencing.

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) regularly updates federal sentencing guidelines for prosecuting white collar crimes. Most recent changes granted federal judges broad discretion in determining punishments, including jail time and financial restitution. So, how do these judges determine a just sentence?

Judges consider many factors during sentencing

The criminal justice system considers white collar crime as non-violent offenses motivated by financial gain. Primary offenders include professional businesspeople and government officials. Typical offenses include:

  • Insider trading
  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Tax evasion
  • Money laundering
  • Identity theft
  • Bribery

Each of these crimes carries a punishment of years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. The USSC outlines guidelines for judges, including jail time and alternative sentencing. A 2015 update to the fraud sentencing guidelines established a new rubric to determine the level (up to 30) of the crime based on the amount of money involved, the number of victims and the offender’s efforts to conceal their actions. For example, an insider trading charge can result in 20 years in jail and $5 million in fines.

Skepticism in judge discretion

Some critics of white collar sentencing believe judges make too many concessions during sentencing. Judges often consider extraneous factors like one’s ability to pay restitution, recidivism rates, letters of character, and more. These considerations allowed one Texas judge to commute a five-year sentence for fraud for one criminal in Texas — the judge claimed if the offender kept his job, he could pay restitution to his victims faster. These disparities between white collar fraud and everyday theft come under intense scrutiny by citizens’ rights activists and prosecuting attorneys.

A reliable legal defense can make all the difference

Those facing white collar charges have more success in defending their rights and reputation alongside a local attorney familiar with federal and state laws concerning white collar crime. A lawyer will assess your case, formulate an appropriate defense and work with the judge on sentencing alternatives.

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