Relevant conduct in a federal criminal case comes into play when it’s time for the federal judge to determine the sentence that is appropriate. In federal criminal cases, judges determine sentences based on the United States Sentencing Guidelines. After the conclusion of a trial or plea agreement, a judge will examine the federal sentencing guidelines and based on the seriousness of the crime, determine what level of offense the punishment will fall under. The more serious the crime, the more serious the offense level. For example, a trespassing violation has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32. In addition to deciding the base level offense, the judge increases the sentence further based on crime specific characteristics. For instance, in a fraud case, if the amount of money lost is more than $6,000, the offense level rises 2 levels.
Finally, once the base offense level and crime specific increases have been determined, the judge now has the ability to examine relevant factors of the case that can either increase or decrease a sentence. This is where the all important discussion of relevant conduct comes into play. As complex and complicated as federal sentencing rules are, it is crucial a federal defense lawyer explains the use of “relevant conduct” in your federal criminal case.
How Relevant Conduct Can Increase Your Sentence
Relevant conduct is a broad term that is entirely subjective to each individual criminal case. Relevant conduct could include facts such as individuals part of the crime itself, a person’s criminal record, or anything leading up to the crime, just to name a few. During this process, a judge will sort through the factors listed and an indefinite amount of others, to decide if a sentence should be further increased, or if there is something that should reduce the offense level. The latter is extremely rare, and more often than not, a judge will decide upon a base offense level and then raise it with factors relating to the relevant conduct of a case.
For example, let’s say someone was convicted for being in possession of 5 ounces of marijuana as they were leaving their house to go to their car nearby. Later, during the course of the investigation, it is discovered that the house the individual was living in was found to have 10 pounds of marijuana stashed away in a cabinet. This extra 10 pounds of marijuana discovered could be considered relevant conduct and increase the sentence for being in possession of marijuana immensely. Whether or not the individual was planning on selling that marijuana, just using it for personal recreation, or neither is irrelevant.
The fact of the case is that the judge will see that extra marijuana as something to further punish the defendant for having on the premise of his or her property that pertains to this sentencing. Small factors like this that didn’t even relate directly to the original arrest can add years to a sentence that can cause people to spend the rest of their life in federal prison, based on extra details don’t specifically connect to the case at hand.
How to Minimize Relevant Conduct From Being Introduced
Having an experienced federal defense lawyer to prevent relevant conduct from being included in your sentencing is critical to reducing a sentence at all costs. If you or know someone you know is at risk in a federal criminal case, contact federal defense lawyer Karren Kenney at 1(855) 505-5588 immediately to start the fight to defend your rights today!