After a long trial followed by over forty hours of jury deliberations, Ghislaine Maxwell finally stands convicted of several federal charges relating to the sexual abuse of minors. Ms. Maxwell somewhat curiously chose not to testify in her own defense, and she now faces a sentence of up to 65 years in federal prison. Ms. Maxwell’s fight is far from over, but ultimately it will almost certainly lead to one final choice: cooperate with the government or die in prison.
After a federal conviction – by guilty plea or by jury verdict – the defendant is interviewed by a specialized officer from the U.S. Department of Probation. These officers typically have backgrounds in social work, and it is their responsibility to prepare a biography – or presentence report – for the court. The judge uses this presentence report at sentencing to understand the defendant’s life, background, and circumstances. (The Bureau of Prisons also uses this report in determining the defendant’s prison designation.) The preparation of a report can easily take two months or more, as the interview has to be scheduled, a draft report prepared, edits and objections made by both the defense and the prosecution, and a final draft with a sentencing recommendation submitted to the sentencing court.
Following the preparation of the presentence report, both the prosecution and defense prepare sentencing memoranda for the judge. Both sides make arguments about the proper application of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the sentencing factors pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Defense lawyers usually submit character letters from friends and family of the defendant, and sometimes the defendant also submits his/her own letter of remorse. Eventually, the sentencing court then holds a sentencing hearing at which both sides make oral arguments about the sentence and the court pronounces its decision. That sentencing hearing could be anywhere from 4 to 6 months after the conviction, though it could take even longer.