In Federal Sentencing, Age Begins to Matter


On November 1, 2010, a new amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines will go into effect that will allow a judge to consider a defendant’s age far more often than before in handing down a sentence in federal court.

We think this change will have a major impact on sentencing in white-collar criminal cases. Defendants in financial crimes tend to be older, so even a relatively modest sentence of 15 or 20 years can amount to a life term, as a practical matter, for a defendant who is in his seventies. We expect that the frequency of this kind of sentence will be reduced quite a bit. White-collar crime lawyers need to take note of this.

The change might well affect cases like that of Rachel Tucker, a 67-year-old woman who was convicted of possession and intention to distribute methamphetamine. A federal trial court in Arkansas sentenced her to three years of home detention rather than the guideline-recommended 155 to 188 months in prison, citing Tucker’s age among other matters. But in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found that there was nothing about Tucker’s situation that justified this approach and sent the case back for a sentence of 72 months.

Another example is the case of Billie Quicksall, a former Texas government official convicted of bribery and other crimes whose sentence was reduced by the trial court partially because he was 60 years old. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found that the trial court had wrongly taken his age into account.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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