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The Difficult Fight Against the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

A judge hitting a gavel on a block, representing how one can benefit from calling a Portland criminal defense attorney.

While it might seem like a mere detail, the difference between being charged for a state crime and a federal crime has numerous implications. Many of these are very important, and can have a drastic impact on the outcome of your case. One of the most important differences between being charged with a federal crime, as opposed to being charged with a state one, is that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are applicable to convictions for federal crimes.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines explicitly state what the sentence should be, if you are convicted of a federal charge. These are often fairly harsh sentences. Unfortunately, judges in a federal court have to do some extra work if they want to impose a sentence outside of the Guidelines, and risk an embarrassment by being overturned on appeal. As a result, the strict sentences that are required under the Guidelines are often adopted.

Because of the importance and difficulty in getting a sentence that is lower than the one that would be imposed under the Sentencing Guidelines, having a criminal defense attorney with experience defending against federal charges is crucial.

The Sentencing Guidelines Leave Some Room for Departure

While the Sentencing Guidelines give a range of sentences that are permissible for a conviction of a federal crime, the Guidelines do allow for other sentences to be imposed in a given set of circumstances. However, for a judge to impose a sentence that doesn’t fall within the range given by the Guidelines – called a “departure” – he or she has to give a statement defending the choice to go outside of the given range.

Because of the Extra Work and Risk, Departures from the Guidelines are Rare

Unfortunately, even though departures from the Guidelines’ range of sentence impositions are possible, they are difficult to obtain following a conviction for a federal criminal charge. The Guidelines themselves give a listing of circumstances where a departure is warranted. However, judges who want to make a departure from the range of sentences under the Guidelines have to show that one of these circumstances is at play. This can often be a difficult thing to do, and is often grounds for an appeal to a higher court, which can disagree with the judge’s decision to depart.

An easier option is for federal court judges to simply nod along with the Sentencing Guidelines and ignore any injustice that it creates in a particular case. Therefore, few judges are willing to take it upon themselves to depart from the easy road.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

If you’ve been charged with a federal crime in Maine, you’ll need a criminal defense attorney with experience in federal court, and who understands how best to persuade judges to take on the extra work and risk, depart from the Sentencing Guidelines, and give you a softer sentence. Attorney William T. Bly is one of Maine’s top criminal defense attorneys. Call his law office at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online.


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Great group of people. Managed to get me a favorable outcome from a very bad situation. I would highly recommend this firm if you have legal troubles. Top notch performance!!

Dave Allen

So thankful I chose this team to represent me. They’re the best, hands down. Nathan Hitchcock proved my innocence not once but TWICE, including a trial by jury. I have a family in law enforcement who told me “Bill Bly and his team are the best. If I would recommend anyone, it would be them.”

Brandon Albert





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If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.

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