Federal Crimes

In the United States, a federal crime is criminalized by United States federal regulations.

Federal crimes are the most serious violations of the law. Several federal agencies, including the FBI, DEA, IRS, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have the power and authority to investigate crimes at the federal level. The guidelines for prosecution are established by the United States Attorney in every federal judicial district.

Federal crimes can have serious and lasting penalties that can ruin your future, with long prison sentences and heavy fines. If you are being investigated for a federal crime, you should obtain the services of a criminal defense lawyer who is knowledgeable and has experience with your type of case.

Federal Crimes: Case Proceeding

If you are contacted by an agent or investigator from any agency that represents the Federal Government, it’s imperative that you reach out to a federal criminal defense lawyer immediately. Many times, your case is an investigation that can be resolved without a case being filed.

If you were unable to reach out to a lawyer prior to being arrested, you will be brought before a magistrate judge who will read you your rights. You will be asked if you are seeking to hire an attorney or are requesting that a lawyer be appointed to represent you. The court will also inquire if you wish to have a detention hearing if one is not agreed to by the government. Gary Tabakman believes there are very limited circumstances where a client should not seek a detention hearing, and he would evaluate that situation on a case by case basis.

Federal Crimes Sentencing Guidelines

If you have opted to take responsibility for a crime and proceed to sentencing or have gone to trial and found guilty, your fate will initially be dictated by the federal sentencing guidelines. The sentencing guidelines take into account both the seriousness of the offense and the offender’s criminal history.

The sentencing guidelines provide 43 levels of offense — the more serious the crime, the higher the offense level. These levels will put your case on an advisory penalty range for the judge to consider.

Base Offense Level

Each type of crime is assigned a base offense level, which is the starting point for determining the seriousness of an offense. More serious types of crime have higher base offense levels (for example, a trespass has a base offense level of 4, while kidnapping has a base offense level of 32).

Specific Offense Characteristics

In addition to base offense levels, each offense type typically carries with it a number of specific offense characteristics. These are factors that vary from offense to offense, but that can increase or decrease the base offense level and, ultimately, the sentence an offender receives.


Adjustments are factors that can apply to any offense. Like specific offense characteristics, they increase or decrease the offense level. Categories of adjustments include: victim-related adjustments, the offender’s role in the offense, and obstruction of justice. In multiple count adjustments, the sentencing guidelines provide instructions on how to achieve a “combined offense level.” These rules provide incremental punishment for significant additional criminal conduct. The most serious offense is used as a starting point. The other counts determine whether and how much to increase the offense level.

Acceptance of Responsibility Adjustments

The final step in determining an offender’s offense level involves the offender’s acceptance of responsibility. The judge may decrease the offense level by two levels if, in the judge’s opinion, the offender accepted responsibility for his offense. Offenders who qualify for the 2-level reduction and whose offense levels are greater than 15, may, upon motion of the government, be granted an additional 1-level reduction if, in a timely manner, they declare their intention to plead guilty.

Criminal History

The guidelines assign each offender to one of six criminal history categories based upon the extent of an offender’s past misconduct. Criminal History Category I is the least serious category and includes many first-time offenders. Criminal History Category VI is the most serious category and includes offenders with serious criminal records.

Sentences Outside of the Guideline Range

After the guideline range is determined, if an atypical aggravating or mitigating circumstance exists, the court may “depart” from the guideline range. That is, the judge may sentence the offender above or below the range. When departing, the judge must state in writing the reason for the departure.

United States v. Booker

In January 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). The Booker decision addressed the question left unresolved by the Court’s decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004): whether the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial applies to the federal sentencing guidelines. In its substantive Booker opinion, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment applies to the sentencing guidelines.

In its remedial Booker opinion, the Court severed and excised two statutory provisions, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(b)(1), which made the federal guidelines mandatory, and 18 U.S.C. § 3742(e), an appeals provision.

Rita v. United States

Under the approach set forth by the Court, “district courts, while not bound to apply the Guidelines, must consult those Guidelines and take them into account when sentencing,” subject to review by the courts of appeal for “unreasonableness.” The subsequent Supreme Court decision in Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338 (2007), held that courts of appeal may apply a presumption of reasonableness when reviewing a sentence imposed within the guideline sentencing range.

The Supreme Court continued to stress the importance of the federal sentencing guidelines in its most recent sentencing-related cases. See Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586 (2007) (“As a matter of administration and to secure nationwide consistency, the Guidelines should be the starting point and initial benchmark” at sentencing); Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 558 (2007)

(After Booker, “[a] district judge must include the Guidelines range in the array of factors warranting consideration”).

Click here for the 2018/2019 Guideline Chart.

Gary has experience in the following types of federal crime cases:
  • Mail Fraud Crimes
  • White-Collar Crimes
  • Money Laundering Crimes
  • Medicare and Medicaid Fraud
  • National Security Crimes
  • Weapons Crimes
  • Corruption Crimes
  • Bank Fraud Crimes
  • Kidnapping Across State Lines
  • Tax Fraud and Evasion
  • Internet Child Pornography
  • Federal Election Commission Crimes
  • Obstruction of Justice
  • Perjury
  • Drug trafficking
  • Embezzlement
  • Counterfeiting Currency