Federal Plea and Sentencing Guideline Updates

Attorney Marcia G. Shein spoke recently to defense attorneys at a continuing legal education seminar sponsored by the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“TACDL”) concerning updates to federal pleas and sentencing issues. TACDL was formed and chartered in 1973 as a non-profit organization providing education, training and support to attorneys representing persons charged with crimes. In her speech, Ms. Shein discussed a number of recent Supreme Court cases materially relevant to federal plea bargaining and sentencing matters and reviewed legislative amendments to the current federal sentencing guidelines.

A representative case in point regarding plea agreements is Padilla v. Kentucky, in which a defense attorney was deemed ineffective for not warning his noncitizen client of the likelihood of deportation if the client pled guilty. In this landmark case, the Court ruled for the first time that an attorney was ineffective for failure to advise a client about the consequence of a conviction that was not part of the sentence.

Ms. Shein also visited several recent cases and amendments that have a fundamental impact on sentencing guidelines. The amendments speak to a wide spectrum of sentencing considerations, including alternatives to incarceration, specific offender characteristics and cultural assimilation (for example, the latter allows for a downward departure in sentencing when in a court’s discretion a defendant demonstrates a comparatively strong and lengthy connection to the United States).

The cases and amendments are important in the arena of federal criminal defense, and readers can look forward to informative and clarifying discussion of them in future blog posts.