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Disparity in Sentencing Between Federal and State Courts

For many years we have been hearing about harsh sentences handed down in federal courts for non-violent drug offenses. Even after the Federal Sentencing Guidelines became discretionary instead of mandatory, sentencing for federal drug crimes has been very harsh compared to state court sentences for similar offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences have remained in place in the federal system, even after doing away with the mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Most people are not aware that sentencing can be even more disproportionate in other areas of the law. Specifically, crimes involving human trafficking have become the crime du jour of late. Rightfully so, selling, trading or giving away children for sexual purposes should be taken seriously and responsible parties should be punished.

I recently had two different clients hire me for two very similar cases. The first client (Lucky) was charged with possession of and distribution of child pornography in state court in Los Angeles, California. The second client (Unlucky) was charged in the Norther District of Georgia under a federal statute created to punish people who procure children for unlawful sexual purposes. It should be noted that the facts surrounding both cases were virtually identical. Unlucky has absolutely no criminal history.

At the time of this blog Unlucky finds himself in federal custody awaiting extradition to the Northern District of Georgia. Lucky, having been previously been convicted of a similar offense is on his way to Chino Institute for Men. Lucky is getting a diagnostic evaluation under California Penal Code Section 1203.03. He is facing a maximum sentence of two years. If sentenced to prison, he would serve half of his time and be released on a three year grant of parole. He could also get probation upon his return from his evaluation in 90 days. If so, he would be placed on probation for three years and move on with his life.

Unlucky is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of up to 30 years in federal prison. There is no provision for any type of “safety valve” to get below the mandatory minimum as that only applies to drug cases. Should Unlucky get sentenced under the current charges he will be required to serve 85% of his sentence. He will then be released on a supervised release program which will likely remain in place for the rest of his life. The earliest he will be released from custody is May of 2031.

If Unlucky gets truly lucky, the prosecution could change the charge to the lesser offense of simply possessing or distributing child pornography which, arguably is more appropriate for the facts of his case. If this were to happen, Unlucky would only face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

In case anyone is curious, Unlucky as never been to Georgia. The case was filed there because of the allegation that some internet provider was accessed in the state of Georgia, the case was investigated by federal agents in the state of Georgia, and a federal grand jury issued an indictment in Georgia.

I am not suggesting that I want either of these gentlemen to babysit my children. I am not suggesting that either of these guys should walk free if they are to be convicted of crimes. What I am suggesting is that this does not seem anywhere near fare. At best, Unlucky will serve a sentence that is 7 times longer than Lucky. At worst, he will serve a sentence that is 15 times worse than someone who did exactly the same thing and had a prior conviction for similar conduct.

Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

If you have been charged with a crime, please talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your rights. Don’t talk to anyone about the facts of the case. Ask for a lawyer. Invoke your right to remain silent. Never plead guilty without talking to a skilled criminal defense lawyer.

Call me: Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or email me at: or visit my sites for more information: or