White collar crimes encompass many offenses such as tax fraud, insurance fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. A person charged with one or more of these offenses might feel that pleading guilty might result in a small prison sentence. However, many people convicted of white collar crimes actually serve stiff sentences because of federal sentencing guidelines.

Because white collar criminals can defraud people of lots of money, the federal government generally does not go easy on people involved in white collar offenses. Forbes explains why courts may impose a strong sentence on someone convicted of a fraud or embezzlement offense.

Federal sentencing guidelines

The federal government provides a federal sentencing guideline calculation during a federal sentence hearing. This is a point system that helps determine how severe the punishment should be, taking into account the number of victims involved in the crime, the dollar amount stolen, and other factors such as the sophistication of the crime. These guidelines are advisory, meaning judges do not have to abide by them when sentencing, but they can still greatly influence the outcome.

Severe sentencing

According to the Forbes article, federal guidelines can be stiff when it comes to white collar crimes. Many judges choose to impose lighter sentences as a result. This can give off the impression that white collar criminals get off easy. However, because the federal sentencing guideline calculation is so high to begin with, even lesser sentences may be severe.

For instance, a person accused of a crime may receive a life sentence under federal guidelines. A judge may decide this is too harsh and impose a lesser sentence of forty years. This is less than life imprisonment, but still a significant loss of freedom, perhaps leading to the person dying while in prison.

White collar crimes and money

Some people may think they will receive a lighter sentence if they did not receive any money from a fraud scheme. However, white collar cases can still punish a person using the maximum amount of economic damage if a person engaged in a crime like insider trading. This means a person may serve prison time even if that person had not received money or even knew about a scheme in detail.

Fighting criminal charges

The sentence inflation involved in federal sentencing guidelines makes a strong defense against charges of fraud or embezzlement even more important. As the Cornell Law School points out, federal guidelines require stiffer sentences generally when a victim suffers financial loss. If a defense counsel establishes no one was financially hurt, it may help clear the way for a lighter sentence or a dismissal.