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Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Be Careful What You Agree To

          Imagine the following scenario:  You have been charged in federal court with one count of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.  After reviewing the prosecutor’s evidence against you, you decide that it is in your best interest to plead guilty to the one count that you have been charged with.  Your lawyer then obtains a written plea agreement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office which requires you to admit that you are, in fact, guilty of conspiring to distribute crack cocaine.  Towards the end of the plea agreement, however, is a paragraph that also requires you to admit that you engaged in money laundering even though you have not been charged with committing that particular crime. 

 

          So what you may ask?  You haven’t been charged with money laundering; therefore, there’s no harm in admitting that you engaged in that activity as part of the conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.  Wrong!

 

          Section 1B1.2(c) of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines states that "[a] plea agreement (written or made orally on the record) containing a stipulation that specifically establishes the commission of additional offense(s) shall be treated as if the defendant had been convicted of additional count(s) charging those offense(s)."  In other words, by admitting in your plea agreement that you engaged in money laundering, the judge who will later sentence you will treat it is as if you had been formally charged and convicted of money laundering even though that is not the case at all.  More importantly, the amount of prison time that you are facing may well increase because of your inadvertent admission to money laundering.

 

          That is precisely what happened in the case of United States v. Miller.  In that case, Mr. Miller was originally charged with committing the two crimes of transporting computer visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and possession of computer disks containing depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.  He eventually pled guilty to both crimes. However, in his plea agreement he also stipulated that he had used email to solicit teenage boys to engage in sexual activity.

 

          Several weeks after pleading guilty, Miller learned for the first time that the amount of prison time he was facing was substantially more than what he had originally thought it would be because of the emails he had sent.  Miller objected to this increase saying that these emails were not part of the crimes he had pled guilty to because they did not occur during either the preparation of his crimes or in the actual commission of them.

 

          The appellate court hearing Miller’s case rejected these arguments in part because of the stipulation contained in his plea agreement combined with the language contained in Section 1B1.2(c) of the Federal Guidelines.

 

          The lesson to be learned, of course, is that someone who is considering pleading guilty to a federal crime should be concerned not only about the actual crime he is pleading guilty to but also about any additional facts that he is considering agreeing to as part of the plea agreement.

 

 

       If you were arrested for a federal crime in Florida, call me, attorney Ron Chapman, at 561-832-4348 to discuss your case and see how I might be able to help you.

 

 

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