You all know who I’m talking about but that’s not the point. Many times the media will announce that someone has been charged with a crime or convicted of a crime and they are facing some extraordinary amount of time in state or federal prison. They are usually referring to the statutory maximum sentence for those crimes and not the actual sentence that the person will receive.
All crimes in federal court have a statutory sentence which in some cases includes a maximum and a minimum sentence. That means the court can’t impose more or less than these sentences. However, in federal court, there are also the United States Sentencing Guidelines which essentially provide a formula for calculating a sentence in any given case. There are “offense levels” which are applied to each offense which are taken into consideration with a person’s criminal history and together these factors, among others, help a judge determine the applicable sentence in any given case. In most cases, this sentence is far less than the statutory sentences such as 140 years.
In-state court, there are sentencing ranges for felony offenses which range from 16 months to life in state prison. However, a state court judge can sentence someone who pleads guilty or been found guilty of any one of these felony offenses to a period of probation which includes a significantly shorter period of time in jail, if any.
Is most of what we hear on the news regarding the kind of time people are facing hype? Yes. It is also a lack of understanding about the way the law works. That is why it is so important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney when you facing charges in state or criminal court, even if it’s simply to give you peace of mind so you don’t have a heart attack worrying that you’re going to go to jail for 140 years!