White collar crimes have a reputation for being the “soft” kind of crime. Because we’ve heard stories of bankers getting a few months’ house arrest and a slap on the wrist for massive financial fraud, defendants tend to assume that their charges will end with a fairly lenient sentence. Even clients being prosecuted by federal authorities assume that they’ll be able to get a few months’ house arrest and be done.
If you’ve been charged with a white collar crime, you might be tempted to be hopeful. You might think that taking a plea deal is your way out of this situation. Maybe it is—but today’s blog is about being able to gauge that risk against the benefits of hiring a lawyer to fight your charges.
Penalties for Repeated White Collar Offenses
The state of Florida has always harshly prosecuted white collar crimes, especially crimes that target the elderly or large groups of people. Florida has a heightened classification for white collar crimes that are committed on similar groups, with similar results, accomplices, or methods—essentially, if you are an offender of two or more similar white collar crimes. This classification is called “aggravated white collar crime” as stipulated by the White Collar Crime Victim Protection Act (2001). If someone commits aggravated white collar crime against 20 people, 10 elderly people, or any institution part of the Florida state government, then their charge will be classified as a first-degree felony.
People who commit aggravated white collar crime under these circumstances are liable to receive:
- 30 years’ imprisonment
- $500,000 in fines
- Orders to pay restitution
- Orders to pay court fees
30 years’ imprisonment and half a million in fines is not a slap on the wrist—that’s the same punishment levied against someone who has committed manslaughter. That’s why it’s so vital to fight every single charge, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant:
If you’re hit with a second charge within 5 years—40% of white collar defendants have a record—then you’ll qualify for felony sentencing. Avoiding harsh sentences designed for repeat offenders means thinking about your future by fighting for your present. Prosecutors like to imply that fighting back will result in a harsher sentence, but that’s not true. Fighting your charges helps avoid both present punishment and future penalties.
Prosecutors want to save the state money and time. Neither of those are in your best interests. Don’t roll over just because you think there’s an open-and-shut case against you. Don’t roll over just because you’re afraid that fighting charges will make things worse.
Think About Your Reality, Not Your Hopes
People charged with corporate crime like to think about what other people have received in the past. In exchange for plea deals, white collar defendants have received a few months imprisonment or were allowed to serve jail time from home. However, when you’re facing down the barrel of the justice system, you can’t afford to think that way. You need to think about what you are vulnerable to.
If a judge has handed out 1 million lenient sentences prior to your trial, that doesn’t mean anything for your case. Too many people have believed that a lenient judge would come down on their side, only to find themselves facing a years-long prison sentence.
If you’re offered a plea deal or you’re casting your hopes on a judge’s mercy, remember that you have:
- No guarantee of house arrest
- No guarantee of a short sentence
- No guarantee of a minimum security prison
The only real hope you have is an aggressive criminal defense attorney with a record of success. Judges aren’t obligated to be on your side—but your lawyer is. They’re the ones you can trust to fight for you, to work on every possible front for an acquittal or a dismissal. You can also bet that if you end up taking a plea deal, your attorney will make it a lot more advantageous for you than the prosecutor would.