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I had a sentencing in federal court today. My client was charged with obtaining cough medicine with fraudulent prescriptions and received  a “middle of the Guideline sentence” of nine months in prison. He has been locked up since December 15, 2016, and so, will have to serve an additional 3+ months before his release.

In my experience, a large portion of federal prosecutions end with a guilty plea and, so sentencing is where it’s at in federal court. As I was preparing for sentencing today, my research led me to actual data to back up my experience.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, “simple drug possession” includes: §2D2.1 – Unlawful Possession, Attempt and Conspiracy; §2D2.2 – Acquiring a Controlled Substance by Forgery, Fraud, Deception, or Subterfuge; and §2D2.3 Operating or Directing the Operation of a Common Carrier Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, charges amounting to “simple drug possession” are almost always settled by a guilty plea in the Ninth Circuit (the circuit Idaho is in). When I say “almost always,” I mean in more than 99 cases out of 100! As this table – Guilty Pleas and Trials in Each Primary Offense Category FY 2016 – shows, in 2016, in the entire Ninth Circuit, there were 1,489 cases charged under the “simple possession” guidelines. Of those, only 1, went to trial. That’s a minuscule 0.067%.

In order to be a successful federal criminal defense attorney, you need to know the lay of the land, recognize when a plea is in the best interests of your client, and know how to prepare and argue effectively for your client in the sentencing proceeding. It is most likely where you’ll be able to do your client the most good.