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New sentencing guidelines possible for white collar crimes

U.S. Sentencing Commission says economic crimes will be its next priority

After tackling excessively harsh drug sentences, the U.S. Sentencing Commission says its next priority will be revising the sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes, according to the National Law Review. Although the commission has yet to say what direction it will take as regards the revised guidelines, analysts say it will likely move to combat what many perceive as increasingly disproportionate sentences for fraud and other economic crimes.

Greater judicial discretion

According to Fox Business, one of the problems with current sentencing guidelines for white collar crimes is that they are largely based on economic loss. Typically, the more money lost in a fraud scheme, for example, the lengthier the prison sentence will be for people convicted in the scheme. Analysts say that focusing on economic loss has allowed relatively minor players in fraud schemes to receive disproportionately long sentences.

Those critics say that what is needed is a greater emphasis on culpability and judicial discretion. Instead of focusing on how much money was lost, a judge would instead be able to consider how much a defendant actually gained from the scheme and for how long the scheme lasted. The current rigid guidelines have resulted in sentences being handed down that routinely exceed 10 years in prison.

Political will a problem

The U.S. Sentencing Commission issues the guidelines, which must be approved by Congress, for how judges should determine sentences for certain crimes. It earlier this year announced that it would be reviewing the fairness of sentencing guidelines for fraud and other economic crimes after it tackled the issue of sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Although sentencing guidelines are not mandatory, they are often used by judges who hope to maintain consistency in sentencing across the justice system.

The greatest impediment to revising the guidelines, however, may be political will. Given public anger in reaction to the 2008 economic collapse, analysts say many politicians will be less inclined to support sentencing guidelines that are perceived as being lenient on white collar criminals. However, at the same time, as was seen in the reduction of sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders, there is public and political support for reducing the federal prison population, which could help encourage less harsh sentences for white collar criminals.

Defending against fraud

For the time being, it is little more than speculation to say how white collar sentencing will be revised, meaning that people charged with fraud and other white collar crimes currently face the prospect of lengthy prison sentences.

As such, anybody charged with such a crime needs to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in white collar crime cases can offer clients the expertise and advice that is invaluable when defending against a serious and potentially life-altering criminal charge.