The Role of a Sentencing Error

Criminal laws set forth a range of penalties for each criminal conviction, such as incarceration, probation, fines, and other forms of punishment. Although courts generally have wide discretion when sentencing a convicted defendant, if a judge makes sentencing errors, the defendant has grounds on which to file an appeal.  

A sentencing appeal allows a higher federal court to review the lower court’s proceedings and determine if a specific error occurred or if the judge made an unreasonable sentence. If the higher court rules in favor of the defendant (or appellant), then he/she will be given a reduced sentence or perhaps a new trial. 

The following are common sentencing errors committed by courts: 

  • The judge applies the incorrect sentencing factors 

  • The judge applies the incorrect penalty provisions 

  • The judge did not consider mitigating (favorable) factors 

  • The judge determines a sentence based on factual mistakes 

  • The judge’s sentence deviates from the normal sentence in similar cases 

However, it is not uncommon for a federal judge to “depart” from federal sentencing guidelines when imposing harsher sentences than the guideline range for the offense.  Only if an appeals court finds that the judge abused his/her discretion or imposed a sentence higher than the maximum set by law, then the sentence will be reversed. 

By contrast, a judge may refuse to a “downward” departure from federal guidelines, meaning that he/she will not issue a lower sentence than the guidelines. If a judge wrongly presumed that he/she did not have the discretion to depart from the guidelines, the appeals court will review the sentence. 

If you or a loved one has received a harsh sentence following trial and interested in filing an appeal, contact Martin G. Weinberg, Attorney at Law today at (617) 227-3700 to get more than 40 years of federal appeals experience on your side.