U.S. Sentencing Commission might lower guidelines for white collar crime

Drug sentencing guidelines were lowered successfully earlier this year, and white collar crime guidelines could be next.

The vast majority of white collar crime offenders are nonviolent, and are unlikely to reoffend. A white collar crime is most often a function of opportunity and temptation, and many defendants convicted of a white collar crime have never previously been in trouble with the legal system.

Given these realities, does it make sense to lock white collar offenders up for years, or even decades? In a recent meeting of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, some time was devoted to potentially rethinking the onerous sentences for white collar crimes in the federal sentencing scheme.

Focus could move from loss sustained to culpability of defendant

Earlier in 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that the sentencing guidelines for drug offenders be lowered. Over half of the federal prison population is serving time on drug charges; with costs spiraling out of control, and many states moving to legalize marijuana in one form or another, the time was right to reevaluate the wisdom of harsh sentencing guidelines for drug crimes.

Similar logic is now being applied to white collar crime sentencing guidelines. While public outrage over white collar crime is still simmering in the wake of the accounting scandals of the early 2000s and the collapse of the financial system that led to the Great Recession, it is also widely recognized that draconian sentences for white collar offenders do little in the way of deterrence.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted on August 14 to set priorities for the coming year. One of the top priorities is rethinking white collar sentencing guidelines.

Specifically, the Sentencing Commission has indicated it will look into the possibility of shifting the focus in white collar guidelines from the amount of loss sustained to the culpability of the offender. Currently, the greater the financial loss from a fraud, the longer the sentence is under the guidelines.

However, in 2013, a task force of the American Bar Association recommended that a fairer sentencing structure would focus more on the culpability of the offender than on the amount of loss sustained. Few white collar crimes start out as a deliberate fraud. Most begin as a slight fudging of the rules, and escalate into something more. Many expert commentators have posited that an analysis of culpability could help set recommended sentences to better reflect fundamental fairness.

An experienced lawyer can help you stage a strong defense

If you have been accused of committing a white collar crime, the possible modifications to the sentencing guidelines could help you - eventually. But even if the guidelines are adjusted to allow for more lenient sentences, the ultimate decision in sentencing lies with the judge in your case, and you need strong legal arguments in order to ensure you are not subjected to an unduly punitive sentence. A criminal defense attorney experienced in white collar crime cases can help you get the best possible outcome in your case. Contact a defense attorney today if you are facing charges for a white collar offense.

Keywords: white collar, sentencing, guidelines