Sentencing and Penalty Guidelines for White Collar Crimes

What punishments do white-collar defendants in Texas face if convicted of a non-violent offense like fraud or racketeering?

Being accused of a white collar crime - or any crime for that matter - is a terrifying scenario for a number of reasons.

Not only is your job and reputation on the line, but if convicted you face the possibility of steep fines and even prison time.

In addition to criminal charges, persons accused of white collar offenses often face civil lawsuits too. These civil cases are usually brought by the victims of the crime, the government or both, and seek to recover any financial losses caused by the defendant's illegal actions. Any penalties awarded in civil court are in addition to the fines and punishments given in criminal sentencing court.

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The possibility of civil litigation on top of criminal prosecution, coupled with the unreliable nature of federal sentencing guidelines, makes white collar crimes notoriously complicated cases. If you have been charged with a white collar crime, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense law firm as soon as possible to discuss your case, specifically a firm focusing on white collar and nonviolent offenses.

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White Collar Crime Sentencing Factors

Deciding on an appropriate punishment for a white collar crime conviction is determined on a case-by-case basis and dependant on certain individual circumstances. These five main sentencing factors include:


What is the maximum punishment allowed by state or local sentencing guidelines? Judges use these federal guidelines and state laws to determine an appropriate penalty for any given crime. Most defendants can receive a lesser sentence when properly represented by an experienced white collar defense attorney.


Does the defendant have a prior criminal record, or are they a first-time offender? Being a repeat offender - whether the past crime relates to the current charge or not - often results in harsher penalties from a judge. First-time offenders, on the other hand, may be able to negotiate for a lighter sentence.


Was the white collar crime in question a misdemeanor or felony? Certain state and local guidelines regulate what penalties judges can give based on the seriousness of the offense. For instance, a violent crime like homicide or aggravated assault will earn a much more severe punishment than a non-violent or minor offences like shoplifting.


Did any mitigating circumstances play a role? Certain contributing factors may make a judge more lenient during sentencing, such as if the defendant recently experienced a major life crisis like losing a loved one or their job. The role the defendant played in the crime (whether they were the central figure or an accomplice) as well as if another person was injured due to their actions may also be taken into account.


Is the crime attracting attention from the public or media? Although the American justice system is supposed to uphold the law fairly, societal pressure often plays a role in criminal cases. For example, judges, law enforcement and elected officials want to appear harsh on certain crimes (like child pornagraphy or drug offenses), therefore they may apply stricter punishments to these offenders than is necessary.

Surprising White Collar Sentencing Statistics

Each year, the United States Sentencing Commission collects data regarding federal sentencing decisions. Here are a few interesting white-collar sentencing statistics from their "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2015":

  • Fraud cases made up 10.5% of all cases, the third largest portion of total federal criminal convictions (after drug and immigration offenses).

  • The average loss amount for white collar cases was $2,909,541, but ranged anywhere from $0 to over $7 billion.

  • The average sentence given to those convicted of fraud in 2015 was 27 months.

  • The number of sentences imposed on organizations in 2015 increased by 10.5% from the year before. Organizational offenders pleaded guilty in almost every case, and penalties included fines, restitution, or both. The most common types of offenses committed by organizations were environmental offenses (33%), fraud (21%) and food, drugs, agricultural and consumer products (12%).

Primary Offense Mean Months Median Months Number of Offenders
Larceny/Theft 11 2 914
Fraud 27 14 7,420
Embezzlement 10 1 342
Forgery/Counterfeiting 16 12 511
Bribery 27 18 217
Tax Evasion 13 10 561
Money Laundering 29 18 669
Racketeering/Extortion 79 51 1,006
Gambling/Lottery 5 4 77

*This chart shows the average sentence length for the most common white collar crimes in 2015 according to data from the USSC's annual report.

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"I had a previous lawyer who I felt was not doing enough for my case. The first time meeting with Neal, I was treated with kindness and he listened very closely to what I had to say. As soon as I explained my situation, he mapped out a plan for defense, worked with me on a payment plan, and worked vigorously on my case. Throughout the three months he was on my case, he was always available when I called or got back to me within 24 hours or less. If something new happened with my case, he called me right away. I didn't have to find him or harass him to get information. Neal ended up getting my case dismissed. He stopped it from ever getting to the Grand Jury, much less the trial phase. The allegations brought against me were truly false and to have a lawyer as attentive, caring, and knowledgeable as Neal was a Godsend! Those were some pretty dark days, and without my faith in God and my confidence and trust in Neal, I might have been wrongfully incarcerated. Thank you so much, Neal!"

 |  Client's white-collare fraud case was dismissed

The Challenge of Sentencing White Collar Crimes

While judges use federal and state sentencing guidelines to determine an appropriate punishment for a white-collar offense, these guidelines are increasingly being called into question by lawmakers and bar associations for being unfair and, in the words of one federal judge, "just too goddamn severe." People on the other side, however, say white collar sentences are too lenient and that white collar criminals "get off easy."

Something both sides can agree on is that current federal sentencing guidelines are overly simplistic in regards to white collar offenses and penalties often don't match the crime.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a white collar offense or are being investigated, it is urgent you contact a criminal defense attorney with experience handling white-collar cases immediately. At the Neal Davis Law Firm, we will build a strong defense and skillfully negotiate a lower penalty during sentencing if convicted. For over 20 years, Neal Davis has successfully defended clients in Texas and federal courts in all types of white collar cases and other legal matters - including theft, tax evasion, securities and financial schemes, fraud and racketeering.

Each case is different. Contact us to discuss your case today - no cost, no commitment.

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