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What to Expect at The Sentencing Hearing in The Federal District Court?
If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial of a federal crime, then your case will be set for a sentencing hearing. It is at this later sentencing hearing, and not the plea hearing, that you will be sentenced.
As you may imagine, the sentencing hearing is an important one, and it is vital for both you and your federal criminal defense attorney to be well prepared for it. The district court judge will inquire and confirm that both you and your attorney have read, discussed, understand and been given the opportunity to object to the contents of the PSR and any attached addendum. The judge does this because of the importance of the PSR, including that it will follow you into the Federal Bureau of Prisons and define the type of prison where you will be housed.
According to Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, if your lawyer can show "good cause," the court may allow your attorney to make new objections to the report or sentencing recommendation. However, this is a practice that should not be relied on and is not a substitute for lack of preparation on the part of your attorney. Whether raised at the sentencing hearing, or in writing before the hearing, the court will resolve any issues with the PSR. Most of the time all disputes will have been resolved before sentencing, and both sides will agree that the PSR is accurate.
In the next step, the judge will ask your lawyer if they wish to speak on your behalf. After your lawyer has addressed the court and articulated arguments as to why the recommended sentence should or should not be imposed, they will ask you if you wish to speak on your own behalf. This right to speak before sentencing is absolute, though you can waive the right if you so choose. If the court fails to provide you with the opportunity to speak, this failure requires a resentencing in which you are afforded the opportunity to speak to the court prior to sentencing.
Finally, the court will ask the AUSA if they have anything they would like to say at sentencing. Many times, the AUSAs in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan, the government will say nothing unless they feel that there was some sort of outrageous misstatement made by a defendant during his or her chance to speak. Generally speaking, the judge's mind is already made as to the sentence. The AUSA is aware of this and unlikely to challenge the judge. The victim of the crime, if any, will also be allowed to address the court prior to sentencing.The Order or Judgement of Conviction Containing the Terms and Conditions of Your Sentence
Under Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, after the judge has announced the sentence with you present, the judge must prepare a "judgment of conviction." This writing, signed by the judge, must contain information about the plea entered, or if the conviction came after a trial, a recitation of the jury's verdict. The judgement of conviction must also contain all the specifics about your sentence, including the prison term ordered.Being Taken Into Custody and Beginning Your Sentence
Once all of this has occurred, your sentencing hearing will end, and you will be committed to the custody of the Attorney General for the period that the judge determined. However, in most cases, defendants who were out on bond will be permitted to stay out on bond. There are exceptions to this, though. For example, if you are facing a lengthy sentence, there is a possibility that the government would move to cancel your bond. If successful, you will be immediately taken into custody. This is a decision based upon the trial judge's determination and varies dramatically from judge to judge in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan. Nevertheless, in most cases people are afforded the opportunity to stay out of the institution until designated.
Another thing to be aware of is that your lawyer may ask the court to allow you to personally surrender yourself to the institution to which you have been designated as opposed to immediately being taken in custody by the Bureau of Prisons. This might be important where you would otherwise be transported to the prison through the prison system itself. This can sometimes take a week or even up to 10 days or more to get you by bus or otherwise to the appropriate institution. If the judge agrees, the opportunity to surrender to the institution is generally in the defendant's best interest.Housing Determinations and Length of Sentence Served
Any sentence over a year in length makes you eligible to go into the federal penal system whereas a sentence of one year or less would require you to go to a prison farm . This is important to know because of the way the system works. If you are given a year and a day and go into the prison system, you are likely to serve less time overall than if you are given a year or less and go to the prison farm. Also, when housed in a United States prison you are likely to have more opportunities for education and better facilities overall.What is a Prison Farm and How is it Different from a Prison Labor Camp?
Almost since the Federal prison system existed there have been efforts to reform it at all levels of government. The current prison system is largely an outgrowth of the reforms that took place in the early and mid-1930s. It was at this time that President Roosevelt, with the help of Congress, signed into law a bill that created Federal Prison Industries. Then, using an executive order, he formally created Federal Prison Industries, Inc. FPI. Shortly after, FPI developed different kinds of farm and prison labor camps where inmates would perform their work.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who served from 1969 to 1986 was also keenly in favor of providing prison inmates both with meaningful work and job skills training. It was his belief that it was senseless to put people in prison and not train them to do something useful or constructive. This included providing various forms of skills training. It was further his belief, along with the National Prison Industries Task Force, that federal prison programs should include various forms of educational opportunities, jobs and skills training and even meaningful employment. All of this was happening in the backdrop of the Great Depression.
The National Prison Industries Task Force formally created four categories of prison works, which included (1) institutional work in support of prison administration and operations. This included such things as keeping the internal prison facilities clean, the exterior prison grounds well maintained and food services for the inmates, (2) prison farms for all aspects of farming from growing and harvesting crops to animal husbandry, (3) public service, which was synonymous with infrastructure, like building roads and maintaining military grounds, and (4) prison industries, which is essentially synonymous with factory work.
Until the 1970's every Federal prison has an associated farm. While this is no longer true, many prison farms still exist. As with all forms of prison labor, their existence is fraught with controversy. Some believe these farms provide skills training and meaningful work for prisoners while others believe these inmates are being exploited and forced to work for little or no pay while the government is enriched through their labor.Special Considerations for Housing within the Federal Bureau of Prisons
Another issue a defendant could consider at the time of sentencing is a request to be designated to a particular institution because of services offered at that institution. Such a request, even if granted by the judge, is not binding on the court nor the federal correctional institution. But this does not mean such a request should not be made, because it is still helpful to have that as part of the Judgement of Conviction.
For example, if a defendant has some specific medical issue or psychiatric issue, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services investigator should be made aware of it because there are certain federal institutions that have special and unique medical facilities. One such Federal Correctional Institution is called Sandstone, which is in Minnesota, approximately 70 miles from Duluth. Sandstone has a contract with the Mayo Clinic which affords a defendant the opportunity to get a level of medical treatment most individuals do not get even in the private sector. The same thing applies in the psychiatric field as some correctional institutions are specifically suited to handle these issues.
As we face an aging population, this issue is becoming more important. Another example might be when an individual defendant has a need to receive kidney dialysis. The government has turned MCFP Springfield into an administrative secure federal medical center in which all prisoners housed there need dialysis. For all these reasons, specialized medical needs should be called to the attention of the court prior to the sentence being imposed.What about Special Dietary Needs?
If the defendant suffers from celiac disease and requires gluten free meals, keeps Kosher, or is Muslim and requires a special diet, then like medical conditions discussed above, certain facilities are uniquely equipped to accommodate someone who has specific dietary requirements. During intake, the Bureau of Prisons will note this but bringing it to the attention of the District Court at the time of sentence in the PSR, which follows you into the prison system, is beneficial.