Teresa Giudice and Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice have both plead guilty to numerous fraud charges in federal court in Newark this morning and are now facing significant prison time as a result. Teresa Giudice plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, one count of bankruptcy fraud by concealment of assets, one count of bankruptcy fraud by false oaths, and one count of bankruptcy fraud by false allegations. Joe Giudice plead to the same charges, but also plead guilty to one additional count of failure to file a tax return.
Several news outlets are reporting that, under their plea agreement, Teresa Giudice would spend less than two years in prison, and Joe Giudice would spend a minimum of three years in prison. These reports reflect a lack of understanding of federal sentencing guidelines, as well as the effect of plea bargains in federal court.
Under her plea agreement, Teresa Giudice has stipulated with the government to a total Sentencing Guidelines offense level of 16. Therefore, assuming that Ms. Giudice has no prior criminal record, she would be facing a Guidelines sentencing range of 21 to 27 months. Moreover, under her plea agreement, Ms. Giudice is permitted to move for a downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines based on very limited circumstances. Ms. Giudice is also permitted to argue for a variance from the Sentencing Guidelines based on such factors as her history and character, the nature and circumstances of the offense, the need for deterrence, and the need for the punishment to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Joe Giudice, under his plea agreement, has stipulated with the government to a total Sentencing Guidelines offense level of 21. Therefore, again assuming a criminal history category of I, he faces a Guidelines sentencing range of 37 to 46 months. Unlike his wife, Giudice has stipulated in the plea agreement that he will not argue for the imposition of a sentence outside the Guidelines range. Therefore, while his attorney can present mitigating facts to the sentencing judge, he cannot actually argue that Giudice should be sentenced to a term of imprisonment below the Guidelines range.
However, the most important factor to consider in federal sentencing when trying to predict the actual sentence is that the judge is not bound by the stipulations in the plea agreement. Therefore, the judge can determine a completely different offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines that results in a completely different sentencing range. Moreover, the judge can decide, sua sponte, to impose a sentence above (up to the maximum permitted under the statute) or below (up to any mandatory minimum sentence) the Guidelines range regardless of whether the parties argue for a departure or variance. Finally, unlike in New Jersey state court, defendants cannot withdraw their pleas because they received a plea that is higher than what was contemplated in the plea agreement.