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February 4, 2009

Is six months about typical for the amount of time between a federal trial conviction and sentencing?

Paul Cassell over here at The Volokh Conspiracy asks, "Is a Three Year Delay in Sentencing Too Long?".  Here is the factual background prompting Paul's query:

According to this interesting article, a federal judge has recently set the sentencing date for four plant managers convicted of environmental and safety crimes on April 26, 2006.  The sentencings are now set for April 24, 2009 — nearly three years later.

It is not clear what has caused the delay. Federal prosecutors filed a motion in December to speed things up. They argued that the sentencing delay affected public perception of justice.  They also cited the Crime Victims' Rights Act, which promises crime victims that they have a right to a trial "free from unreasonable delay." The case involves a forklift accident at a foundry that killed a plant worker.

I would generally consider a three-year delay between conviction and sentencing to be extreme and problematic for various reasons.  Then again, in an extreme and problematic case in which the applicable guideline range and the scope of a judge's sentencing authority and discretion is being hotly contested, it can often take a long time to "paper-up" important pre-sentencing issues.

In light of this case, I thought it useful to see if practitioners agree with my rough estimate that, in an average case (whatever that means), about six months will elapse between the time of a trial conviction and a sentencing hearing in the federal system.  In cases involving a plea, I suspect the timeline tends to be a bit shorter (especially in fast-track cases, of course), and in particularly complicated cases I suspect the pre-sentencing timeline is a bit longer.  I ask this question not only to confirm my own (ivory tower?) sense of federal sentencing timelines, but also to provide some context for a fair assessment of whether the three-year delay in the case noted above is truly extreme. 

UPDATE The comments below and additional feedback I have received via e-mail suggest that three to four months is more typical as the standard period between conviction and sentencing.

February 4, 2009 at 07:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Default is about 90 days, to ensure enough time for PSR preparation/objections/etc. Sometimes can run longer when parties seek continuances, etc.

Posted by: Boston | Feb 4, 2009 7:42:56 PM

Three months is a much more reasonable estimate.

Posted by: FPD | Feb 4, 2009 8:16:01 PM

Range in most cases in Chicago is 75-120 days unless the D is cooperating.

Posted by: Chicago | Feb 4, 2009 9:54:41 PM

Most local rules set an initial sentencing date at 80 - 90 days after plea or conviction. However, few sentencing hearings are completed that quickly. Most frequently, defense counsel will request a delay to object to a guideline calculation or factual dispute in the draft PSR prepared by the probation office. Then there is the case of the cooperating defendant (ranging from 25 to 40% in most districts) A quick sentencing is not envisioned by the parties as the defendant is given time to cooperate and earn his 5K 1.1 departure.

In these cases, delays of 1 to 3 years are not unusual. No one objects-the defendant earns an often drastically reduced sentence, the government makes other cases and the Court has full and absolute discretion to sentence as it sees fit. The parties would say that this represents a win-win situation but I wonder. I know if I were a Federal Judge, I would not want to lose control of my court calender. Moreover, Rule 35 provides an avenue for the Court to reduce the sentence of any cooperating defendant up to one year after sentencing. Finally, doesn't it damage the image of the public perception of a "highly efficient" federal court.

Posted by: mjs | Feb 5, 2009 10:27:24 AM

I'M A MOTHER WHO'S SON WAS WRONGFULLY CONVICTED OF A SEX CRIME.AND SENTENED TO LIFE IN PRISION.WITH A CHANCE OF PROALE IN 10YEARS.ITS NOT FAIR HIS STEPSONS ADMITTED THEY LIED IN COURT ,TO SPLIT UP THEIR PARENTS.AND GET THEM BACK WITH THEIR EX'S.I'M IN FAILING HEALTH AND DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO.MY SON DOES NOT BELONG IN PRISON.HE DID NOTHING WRONG.HES NEVER BEEN IN ANY TROUBLE BEFORE THIS.JUST MINOR TRAFFIC TICKETS.WHY WAS HE GIVEN SUCH A HARSH SENTENCES,FOR A CHILD'S LIE.THERES WAS NO EVENDENCE OF ANY KIND,EXCEPT THE CHILDS LIE .WHY SHOULD THIS BE ALLOWED TO IMPRISON HIM.CAN'T HE SUE THE STATE AND THE COUNTY THAT PUT HIM THERE.DID THEY PUT MY SON THERE BECAUSE HES WHITE.AND A TRUCK DRIVER. SIGNED WORRIED MOM

Posted by: MELODIE MAAG | Feb 5, 2009 11:42:35 AM

Ma'am,

This is a great blog for information, and to ask hypothetical questions. Most of the people viewing this blog are lawyers and they wont give their advice for free. I'm not an attorney, but any sex crime is a life sentence, in or out of prison. I seriously recommend that you go to a legal aid office near your. Unlike public defenders, they usually help people because they want to. It also wouldn't hurt to gather witness to whom the kids admitted they were lies.

I'm sorry for your situation, and wish you the best,

E.

Posted by: E | Feb 5, 2009 9:04:18 PM

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