What Happens After You Plead Guilty To A Federal Crime?
One of the biggest news stories of the year – outside the never-ending circus that is the current presidential administration – has been the college admissions cheating scandal that broke out in March. For those who have been tracking it in the news, you probably know that actress Felicity Huffman recently pleaded guilty in federal court.
So, what happens next? According to the news reports, her sentencing hearing will be held in mid-September. If you’re thinking: “It’s only the middle of May right now, why is there so much time between the plea and the sentencing?” – we have an answer for you.
Many things need to happen after a guilty plea (or verdict, in the case of a jury trial) and before a federal sentencing hearing. In general, anyone who pleads guilty to, or is convicted of, a federal crime should expect a minimum of ninety days between their plea/verdict and their sentencing hearing.
Once a guilty plea or conviction has been entered in a federal criminal case, a judge will order what’s called a presentence investigation, commonly referred to as a PSI. The investigation is carried out by the US Probation Office.
The primary purpose of a presentence investigation is to provide the judge with information about the person who will be sentenced, including:
- Information about the person being sentenced: This may include their childhood, struggles they have had, health problems, military service, education, family, addiction, rehab, employment history, and many other important individual facts.
- Details about the offense: How many people were involved, the time span of the crime, what was the intent, etc.
- Victim information: Was anyone injured or killed as a result of the crime, is anyone owed money as a result of the crime, how many victims are there? Ages of victims? Does the victim want to prosecute this case? What is the victim’s relationship to the defendant?
Once all this information has been gathered, a report will be created and submitted to the judge handling the case. These reports often take considerable time and effort to prepare.
A defendant’s attorney will likely request that their client goes through a psychiatric evaluation before their sentencing hearing.
The primary purpose of obtaining this evaluation is to determine the defendant’s mental stability and fitness before entering prison. In some instances, a psychiatric assessment may reveal that a defendant is likely to harm themselves before, or after entering prison. If the judge believes that the defendant is a serious threat to themselves, they may be remanded to a mental care facility pending further review.
While it is possible for a judge to impose a more lenient sentence on a defendant based on information in their psychiatric evaluation, it is relatively uncommon.
Personal And Professional Preparations
Defendants who plead guilty or are found guilty by a jury are typically afforded a certain amount of time to wrap up personal and business affairs before reporting to prison.
This time is generally only afforded to those whom a judge believes do pose a threat to the public and who isn’t considered a flight risk to leave the country in an effort to escape going to prison. An excellent example of this is former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Family and financial arrangements are often the highest priority items for defendants preparing for prison, especially if they have children. While many matters can be resolved with the aid of an attorney after going to prison, it’s always better to settle as many outstanding items before going away.
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