Career Offender in Federal Court

When you are charged with a crime, your prior criminal record comes into play and may affect the outcome your case. If the federal court deems you a “career offender,” the penalties you face in your current case could be much higher.

Below, we explain who the government considers career offenders and how the classification can alter the outcome of a case. If you have been charged with a federal crime, call Goldman Wetzel in St. Petersburg. We represent defendants charged with all types of state and federal crimes, including drug crimes and violent career offender cases. We can provide the defense, counsel, and advocacy you need when facing serious charges. Contact us today at 727-828-3900.

Why are penalties higher for career offenders?

In the Guidelines Manual, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) provides commentary on the relevancy and purpose of factoring in an offender’s criminal history when determining sentencing for a new case:

A defendant with a record of prior criminal behavior is more culpable than a first offender and thus deserving of greater punishment… To protect the public from further crimes of the particular defendant, the likelihood of recidivism and future criminal behavior must be considered. Repeated criminal behavior is an indicator of a limited likelihood of successful rehabilitation.

In other words, having a history of violent and/or drug-related convictions increases liability to society. Therefore, the federal criminal justice system increases sanctions for repeat offenders to deter misconduct and protect the public.

How does the federal government define a career offender?

In § 4B1.1, the USSC’s Guidelines Manual defines a career offender as a defendant who:

  1. was at least eighteen years old at the time he “committed the instant offense of conviction” (“instant offense” simply means the conviction the defendant is currently facing charges for);
  2. is currently facing federal felony charges for a drug or violent offense; and
  3. has at least two prior felony convictions for drug-related or violent crimes.

What types of crimes count towards career offender status?

The definition of career offender provides that a defendant must have two prior felony convictions for the court to deem him a career offender. The previous cases do not have to be federal. They can be prior convictions in any of the fifty state systems, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and foreign, military, or tribal courts.

The convictions must be either crimes of violence, serious controlled substance offenses, or both. Below are the crimes that count as strikes against you when the courts are determining career offender status, as per § 4B1.2:

  • Serious drug offenses: a federal or state drug offense involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance that resulted in a prison sentence of one year or more.
  • Violent felony offenses: “any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult, that either:

1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or

2) constitutes burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

How does a career offender label impact your case?

Career offender status is essentially the federal government’s version of the “three strikes” rule. The third time a defendant commits a serious drug-related or violent offense, the consequences can be disastrous.

How so? First, the court will automatically raise the defendant’s criminal history to Category VI. Second, the court will also automatically inflate the current offense, increasing the sentence and possibly triggering a mandatory minimum sentence.

Charged with a serious federal crime? Goldman Wetzel can help.

To protect your best interests, it is vital to hire a legal team to fight your charges if you have been charged with a serious felony, particularly if you have other convictions on your record. Consider Goldman Wetzel. Our defense lawyers in St. Petersburg will aggressively defend you and fight for the best possible outcome. In cases in which avoiding a conviction is not likely, we might be able to help you avoid the label as career offender, or request a downward departure and reduced sentence.

Call our St. Petersburg office at 727-828-3900 today to review your case with our team of criminal defense lawyers.