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Career Criminal Offenders- Are you one?

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In the Federal System, a "Career Offender" is a specific designation that will enhance your sentence dramatically, despite the crime committed being a relatively minor one.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Federal Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, § 4B1.1, 18 U.S.C.A. § 4B1.1, defines a "Career Offender":

  • Career Offender  (a) A defendant is a career offender if:
  1. The defendant was at least eighteen years old at the time the defendant committed the instant offense of conviction;
  2. The instant offense of conviction is a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense; and
  3. The defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.

What's a crime of violence?

The Sentencing Guidelines define a crime of violence as any offense under federal or state law punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year  that (1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, or (2) is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion, involving use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

What counts as two prior convictions?

If the defendant has at least two prior sentences for a crime of violence or a drug felony prior to the instant offense, regardless if the two prior sentences were consolidated (ran concurrently) for sentencing purposes, they may be designated as a "Career Offender."  This means, that if you have two offenses that were factually distinct, but were consolidated for one plea, the court may still consider those as two prior qualifying offenses.  Further, the courts will also count juvenile convictions as a crime of violence.  There is case law for the rule that persons who, as juveniles, were convicted of adult offenses and were imprisoned, have "prior felony convictions," for the purpose of the career offender guideline.

Special Note about the Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Supreme Court holding in U.S. v. Booker  has effectively rendered the sentencing guidelines advisory.  The Guidelines were previously mandatory for Federal judges to impose a sentence.  The courts must now consider them in applying a sentence.

What's the bottom line outcome from this?

The penalty associated with a career offender designation is severe.  The following chart shows the career offender sentence for such offenders compared to average time served before the guidelines and the applicable range if they were not classified as "career offenders."

Offense Average Time Served Pre-Guidelines Ordinary Guideline Sentence Career Offender Guideline Sentence
Drug Trafficking - 50 g. heroin 37-46 months 37-46 months 210-262 months
Drug Trafficking 5 g. crack 27-33 months 57-71 months 262-327 months, or 360 months to life
Bank Robbery - $2,000 37-46 months 46-57 months 210-262 months

If you've been charged with a Federal felony offense, you need to consult with experienced Federal counsel immediately.  Your designation as "career offender" will obviously carry extremely harsh penalties.  We have experience with fighting and mitigating these designations.  You may call Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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