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Understanding the federal sentencing guidelines for embezzlement

Embezzlement typically involves the taking of assets the defendant has control over but does not own. For example, employees of a credit union may have the authority to count and dispense customer money, but they cannot pocket it for their own personal gain.  

While embezzlement of private funds is usually a state offense, federal prosecutors may bring charges for embezzlement of public funds. Often, federal prosecutors use fraud statutes, such as bank or wire fraud, to prosecute defendants for embezzlement.  

The federal sentencing guidelines

Because of disparities in sentences between judges and jurisdictions, congress adopted federal sentencing guidelines. While these guidelines are not mandatory, many federal judges use them to sentence defendants. The guidelines set a maximum and minimum penalty for every noncapital offense in the U.S. criminal code.  

To apply the guidelines, a judge first identifies the appropriate guideline for the criminal offense and determines the offense’s base level. Then, the judge adds or subtracts points based on the following: 

  • The circumstances of the case 
  • The defendant’s role in the crime 
  • The impact on the victim 
  • The defendant’s acceptance of responsibility 
  • The defendant’s criminal history 
  • Other assessments 

Guidelines for embezzlement

Understanding sentencing exposure for embezzlement can be tricky, as much depends on the underlying offense prosecutors charge. Typically, though, the number of victims and the embezzlement amount weigh heavily during sentencing.  

Generally, if there are few victims and a low embezzlement amount, defendants receive a lighter sentence. For minor cases, probation, restitution and fines may constitute an appropriate sentence under the sentencing guidelines. In more serious ones, confinement may be likely.  

Understanding federal sentencing guidelines for embezzlement is a critical part of a defendant’s criminal defense. After all, a defendant may use a possible sentencing range to negotiate a plea or pursue a jury trial.  

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