In the federal system, the sentencing exposure in a sex offense case is the driving factor on weather to plead guilty or go to trial. However, the scary part is that most sex offense defendants don’t even know what their sentence they will face if convicted. Too often they’re offered what seems like a good deal and they take it, hoping to avoid an embarrassing trial or to get a break with the prosecutor promising to drop many of the charges.
But is this smart?
Over 98% of federal sex offense defendants plead guilty. Why? Because they’re coerced into pleading guilty by a prosecutor who threatens a ludicrous prison term — unless they plead guilty — and they’re often aided by a defense lawyer who’s not familiar with the nuances of sex offense sentencing in the federal courts.
Let me give you an example of a typical federal sex offense case. See if this sounds familiar to you. The feds take your computer and months later you’re charged with receipt and distribution of child pornography. There’s not just one count but several of them, all nearly identical with just the images or videos listed being different. The prosecutor makes an offer and agrees to drop all but one or two of the charges in exchange for your guilty plea. You’re told that dropping those charges will greatly reduce your sentencing exposure and, not knowing any better, you jump on it. You then head to prison for a decade or more.
What the prosecutor did here was probably no favor to you. He knew exactly what sentence he wanted when he filed the charges. How? Because whether it’s one or 100 charges of receipt of child pornography, the sentencing exposure if roughly the same.
Under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, similar offenses are “grouped” to come up with an offense level. Dropping all those other charges likely did nothing to lower you sentencing exposure. Furthermore, the sentencing judge can consider any of your conduct in the dropped charges when crafting your sentence.
So, what did pleading guilty do for you? Probably very little, other than a faster ride to prison. What if you had a valid defense? What if you could have challenged the search warrant or the evidence? If you pled guilty, forget it. A guilty plea waives nearly all of your rights to challenge your conviction later on.
It’s crucial that a defendant facing federal sex offense charges understands their sentencing exposure. This is the only way that such a person can make an intelligent and informed choice about whether to plead guilty or go to trial.
I’ve been working with attorneys and their clients in federal sex offense cases for over 15 years. I’ve even been in the client’s spot myself. I get it. Let me help.