Frequently Asked Questions

What are federal defendants?

Individuals who have been charged with a crime that violates federal laws. These crimes are prosecuted in federal courts and can range from drug offenses to white-collar crimes.

What is the First Step Act?

A federal criminal justice reform law that was signed into law in December 2018. It aims to reduce recidivism rates and improve prison conditions by implementing various reforms, such as expanding rehabilitative programs and providing sentencing reforms. It allows for a reduction in sentence and home confinement (approximately 40% outside of prison)!

What is compassionate release?

Compassionate release, also known as medical release or elderly release, refers to a legal process that allows eligible federal inmates to be released from prison early due to extraordinary or compelling circumstances to include terminal illness, advanced age, or other significant health and family issues.

What are retroactive sentencing amendments?

Changes made to sentencing guidelines or laws that apply to individuals who were sentenced before the amendment was enacted. Retroactive amendments can potentially result in reduced sentences for certain federal inmates who meet specific criteria outlined in the amendment.

What are 924C charges?

924C charges refer to offenses involving the use, possession, or discharge of a firearm during the commission of a federal crime. These charges carry mandatory minimum sentences and are often added to other charges to enhance penalties for individuals involved in violent or drug-related crimes.

What is a sentencing memorandum?

A document prepared by the defense or prosecution that presents arguments and information relevant to the sentencing phase of a criminal case. It may include factors such as the defendant’s background, the nature of the offense, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

What is a 5K?

A 5K is a motion filed by the prosecution under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b). It allows the government to request a reduction in a defendant’s sentence for providing substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person.

What is Rule 35?

Rule 35 is a federal rule of criminal procedure that allows the court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the defendant provides substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person. It is commonly used by the government to reward cooperation.

What is a Halfway House?

Also  known as a Residential Reentry Center, is a transitional facility where federal inmates can reside before fully reintegrating into society. Halfway Houses provide structured programs, support services, and supervision to help individuals successfully transition back into the community.

What is a target letter?

A formal notification from federal prosecutors to an individual indicating that they are the target of a criminal investigation. It typically outlines the specific allegations and informs the recipient of their rights and the potential charges they may face.

What is the US Sentencing Commission?

(USSC) is an independent agency within the federal judicial branch. Its primary role is to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal criminal justice system. The USSC develops guidelines and amendments that federal judges use to determine appropriate sentences for convicted individuals.

What are mandatory minimums?

They are statutory sentencing provisions that require judges to impose a minimum sentence for certain crimes which are predetermined by law and limit judicial discretion in sentencing.

What is allocution?

The opportunity for a defendant to address the court before sentencing. It allows the defendant to express remorse, provide explanations, or make a plea for leniency.

What is a PSR?

PSR stands for Pre-Sentence Report. It is a comprehensive report prepared by a probation officer that provides information about the defendant’s background, criminal history, and the circumstances surrounding the offense. The PSR assists the court in determining an appropriate sentence.

What is supervised release?

A period of supervision that follows a federal inmate’s release from prison. It is similar to parole in the state system and involves regular reporting to a probation officer, adherence to specific conditions, and potential consequences for violations.

What is home confinement?

Also known as electronic monitoring or house arrest, is a form of supervised release where an individual is required to remain at their residence during specific hours or at all times, except for approved activities such as work, school, church or medical appointments.

What is the difference between a US Penitentiary, Medium Facility, Low Facility, and a Camp?

A US Penitentiary is a high-security federal prison that houses inmates who have committed serious offenses or pose a significant risk to public safety. Medium facilities are lower-security prisons that house inmates who have committed less serious offenses. Low facilities are even lower-security prisons that house inmates with minimal risk factors. Camps are the lowest-security facilities and are often used for non-violent offenders who are close to completing their sentences.

Presidential Pardons and Clemency

Can the President pardon someone before they are indicted, convicted, or sentenced?

Yes, although it’s rare. There have been notable cases such as President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon and President Carter’s pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers, demonstrating that pardons can be issued even before formal charges or convictions.

What is the difference between a commutation of sentence and a pardon?

A commutation reduces the severity of a sentence without clearing the conviction, while a pardon is a more complete form of forgiveness that may also lift civil disabilities like voting restrictions and is often granted after a period of demonstrated good behavior post-conviction.

Does a presidential pardon expunge the conviction?

No, a pardon does not expunge a conviction; it remains on the individual’s record but may alleviate some penalties and help in restoring rights.

Does the President have authority to grant clemency for a state conviction?

No, the President’s clemency powers are limited to federal offenses. This authority is derived from Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The President…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

Do you have to hire a lawyer to apply for a pardon or a commutation of sentence?

No, it is not necessary to hire a lawyer. The clemency process can be initiated by any eligible individual through the appropriate petition, and many applications are successfully submitted without legal representation.

Please note that the information provided in this FAQ is for general guidance purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified attorney or legal professional consultant for specific questions related to your individual circumstances.

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