Top Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Leonard on Acceptance of Responsibility under the proposed Amendments to Federal Sentencing Guidelines. One of the benefits to a defendant who pleads guilty to a federal criminal offense is the subtraction of points from the defendant’s Offense Level for what is called “acceptance of responsibility” under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The concept is simple: essentially a defendant should get a benefit from “fessing up” and admitting his guilt, thereby saving the court system, the particular Judge, and the prosecution the time and expense of preparing for trial and trial. Oftentimes, prosecutors will set a date by which the defendant must enter a plea of guilty in order to receive the benefit of the “acceptance of responsibility” points. The reduction available to the defendant’s Offense Level under the Federal Sentencing is set forth in Section 3E.1. A defendant is eligible for a 2-level decrease for “acceptance of responsibility,” and if the Offense Level is 16 or greater, the defendant is eligible for an additional point – for a total of three points.
As I have been discussing in series of recent posts, the Federal Sentencing Commission is proposing certain Amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which would take effect later this year. With respect to “acceptance of responsibility,” the Commission is attempting to clarify that federal prosecutors should not withhold acceptance points for reasons other than having to prepare for trial. The Commission is defining what equates with preparing for trial to include such things as preparing witnesses to testify, the filing of pre-trial motions in limine, and the drafting of voir dire questions, jury instructions, and witness and exhibit lists. The Amendments clarify that other pre-trial proceedings and hearings should not normally be considered as preparing for trial. This Amendment should help to resolve differing decisions from Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal and Federal District Courts to the benefit of defendants by clarifying that federal prosecutors should not be holding over the head of defendants, by threat of withholding or actually withholding, acceptance points in the event their attorneys file motions, including motions to suppress or proceed to sentencing hearings.
Written by Michael Leonard
Leonard Trial Lawyers
April 16, 2023