Sentencing guidelines and white collar crime: What to know

| Sep 21, 2020 | White Collar Crimes

One of the most prevalent misconceptions about white collar crime is that the state and federal justice systems do not punish it harshly. To the contrary, courts frequently impose very strict sentences on men and women convicted of financial crimes. Many white collar crimes are even subject to sentencing guidelines that can lead to disproportionately harsh penalties.

Consistent, yet unjust?

Sentencing guidelines require judges to impose identical sentences on people convicted of the same crime. Some jurisdictions even use a sentencing chart to ensure consistency. On one hand, this ensures that the sentencing for white collar crimes remains uniform. On the other, it often results in unjustly severe penalties for people who do not deserve them. Though criminal violations should receive just sentencing, using a sentencing guideline or a table does not ensure this.

When using sentencing guidelines, judges have very little, if any, discretion when it comes to sentencing based on these guidelines or a chart. A defendant’s personal history and the circumstances of the crime can get lost without context. The majority of people accused of white collar crime do not have any prior run-ins with the law.

The devastating impact of sentencing guidelines

The harsh penalties resulting from sentencing guidelines can destroy the life of a non-violent person with no previous criminal history. Defendants who must pay not only their legal costs but also a mandatory fine may find themselves in unmanageable debt. Those who must spend time in jail or prison lose precious months—or even years—of their lives. Though the justice system should not tolerate white collar crime, it should also consider the impact that mandatory sentencing guidelines may have on the lives of those convicted.

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