How does sentencing work for white collar crime convictions?

An individual accused by the Department of Justice of the commission of financial crimes can serious penalties. These types of white-collar criminal charges can include real estate, business, bank and securities fraud as well as tax fraud and money laundering. Government allegations of white-collar fraud can include involvement in massive, seven-figure schemes or smaller cases of economic loss.

Regardless of the level, the federal government takes any allegation of an offense seriously. This area of prosecution makes up over 10 percent of all cases pursued by the federal government - only drug and immigration offenses are more heavily prosecuted. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports there were 490 new white-collar crime convictions in July of 2018.

If successful, the government's prosecution will result in a conviction. At that point, the individual convicted of the crime faces sentencing. Our justice system has designed sentencing to serve two main goals: punish the offender and deter future offenses. The sentence can serve as a punishment through the imposition of monetary fines and prison sentences as well as required rehabilitation. The sentence can serve as a deterrent by being significant enough to discourage others from committing similar offenses.

So how does our justice system determine the most appropriate sentence for these types of crimes? Sentencing is impacted by four different factors:

  • Congress. Congressional action has led to laws that guide sentencing in these matters. For the most part, these laws have aimed to harshen the penalties that go with these crimes.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). SCOTUS has impacted sentencing when ruling on cases that address this issue. Applicable rulings have resulted in an increased amount of discretion to individual judges.
  • Individual judges. Individual judges set the initial sentences. The judge takes various considerations into account. These can include the severity of the offense, presence of any previous criminal history and the likelihood of recidivism. These judges are generally viewed as taking a more lenient approach when it comes the sentencing of individuals convicted of white collar crimes.
  • The Federal Sentencing Commission. This group has imposed sentencing enhancement guidelines that can increase penalties to what some legal professionals have deemed "often-extreme" levels.

Critics of the system claim judges often give sentences that fall below the recommendations of the sentencing guidelines because they empathize with the individual accused of the crime. These critics are part of a push for additional reform to increase the sentences associated with white collar crimes.

The sentencing associated with white collar convictions is severe, and could get worse. As a result, it is important to take proactive steps whether facing an investigation, battling charges or recently convicted of a white-collar crime and considering an appeal. An attorney experienced in white collar crimes can help build a strong defense or appeal to better ensure your legal rights are protected.