Does the villain in your story earn over 2,000 times the minimum wage rate? If so, does he need a defense attorney who’s skilled at obtaining a downward departure for diminished capacity? I think the bad guy’s sister is guilty of misprision of a felony.

Hey, isn’t it time you slipped a few of these tasty tidbits into your stories? Okay, here are a few to get you started, beginning with …

Accessory After the Fact – A person with direct knowledge that a crime has been committed and by some means helps the suspect escape arrest or punishment for the offense.

Aiding and Abetting -This crime is committed, not by the actual perpetrator—the robber, arsonist, murderer, rapist, etc., but by someone who actively promotes the commission of the criminal act, the robbery, arson, murder, rape, etc. A person who aids and abets is often subject to the same punishment as the person who performed the original crime.

Attempt – The effort to commit a crime but without achieving success. A person attempting to commit a crime may be subject to the same punishment as if their efforts were successful.

Bureau of Prisons – The agency that houses federal inmates. Also known as the BOP (pronounced as individual letters – B.O.P., not like “I’m going to “bop” you on the head!”).

Criminal Livelihood – When a defendant commits offenses as part of a pattern of criminal behavior/conduct—a person whose primary source of income is obtained from criminal activity. Federal sentencing guidelines specify that punishment be a “substantial term of imprisonment” for the defendant who commits an offense as part of a pattern of criminal conduct, such as someone whose criminally-sourced income is 2,000 times that of minimum wage.

Dangerous Weapon – Any device or instrument that’s capable of inflicting death or serious bodily harm, including objects that closely resemble such a device. An example of the latter would be, for example, a gun carved from a bar soap and then painted to look like the real thing. A reasonable person could then expect the faux gun to have the capability of causing death or serious bodily harm. Prison inmates have indeed carved guns from bars of soap, and some have used them to successfully fool guards into thinking they’re the real thing.

Defendant – A person who’s been accused of a crime and has entered into the “court” phase of the legal process. Upon conviction, the same person is then considered to be an “offender.”

Defense Attorney: A lawyer who represents a defendant throughout their criminal proceedings.

Departure – Federal Sentencing Guidelines (see below) are predetermined ranges of terms of punishment based on certain factors of a crime and the criminal’s previous history, among other pertinent background and circumstances. A sentence outside the guideline range is called a departure. Departures may be upward, above the guideline range, or downward, below the mandatory minimum required sentence.

For example, a downward departure, a sentence below the mandatory minimum, is based on the defendant’s “substantial assistance” to the government in their investigation and/or prosecution of others. In short, a person who snitches on someone else and when the snitching results in putting their former friend behind bars, well, the snitch receives a shorter sentence than the one specified in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. A perfect example, hypothetically, would be the former friend of a politician who’s been busted for financial crimes. He, in turn, snitches on … say … a president of the United States. The snitch would then receive a lighter sentence than if he’d remained quiet and accepted the standard punishment for his own crimes.

Diminished Capacity – A downward departure from the normal sentencing guideline is warranted if the defendant suffers from a significantly reduced mental capacity, a condition that greatly contributed to the commission of a non-violent offense. Voluntary drug or alcohol use/abuse at the time of the commission of the crime does not apply, nor is it considered by the courts when determining if diminished capacity is a factor.

Duress – A downward departure may be warranted/granted if the defendant committed the crime in question because of serious threats, coercion, or pressure. For example, the man who commits a bank robbery under orders of a kidnapper who’s holding the man’s family hostage and threatens to do them harm should the man not do as told.

Extreme Conduct – A defendant may receive an upward departure from the guidelines range if their during the commission of the crime was exceptionally heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim. Likewise, An upward departure from the guidelines may be warranted if a victim suffered extreme psychological injury that’s deemed exceptionally more serious than that normally resulting from commission of the crime.

Brutally maiming and murdering federal agents simply because they dared to ask questions (revenge), well, that may be a crime that warrants an upward departure from the typical sentence.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines – Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much, or how little, prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.

To read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Felony – An offense punishable by a prison term of one year or more.

Felony Murder: A killing that takes place during the commission of another dangerous felony, such as robbery.

To get everyone’s attention, a bank robber fires his weapon at the ceiling. A stray bullet hits a customer and she dies as a result of her injury. Then the robber turns toward the bank manager to order him to stay put and, while in the process, accidentally stabs and kills the man with the knife he held in his non-gun hand, the implement he’d planned to use to cut open sealed money bags. The robber has committed felony murder, a killing, however unintentional, that occurred during the commission of a felony. The shooter’s accomplices, assessors after the fact, could also be charged with the murder even if they were not in possession of a weapon or took no part in the death of the victim.

Firearm – Any weapon that expels a projectile caused by the action of an explosive. Since pellet and BB guns do not operate based on explosive charges they are not considered to be firearms. However, depending upon their use, they may be considered dangerous weapons (see Dangerous Weapons, above).

Good Time Credit – Federal prisoners may earn sentence reductions of up to 54 days per year a for their good conduct while in prison. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awards the credits, not the courts, and they apply only to sentences greater than 12 months. Good time credits may be revoked should an inmate commit rule infractions during their incarceration period—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.

Federal prisoners who play nice during the course of their time behind bars typically see a substantial accumulation of good time credit and will subsequently hit the streets much sooner than those who repeatedly act like idiots.

Due to earned good time credit, federal prisoners who follow the rules are typically released after serving approximately 85% of their sentence.

Hate Crime Motivation –  If it’s proven beyond any reasonable doubt that a defendant intentionally selected a victim because of their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation, the courts may impose a sentence enhancement/upward departure of the guidelines.

Indictment – A formal, written accusation of a crime made by a Grand Jury. An indictment, once issued, is then presented to a court at which time begins the prosecution of the defendant.

Information – Like an indictment, an Information is a formal, written accusation of a crime. However, the Information is made by a prosecutor, not Grand Juries. This typically occurs in areas where Grand Juries are not utilized.

Judgment and Commitment – Or simply, the “judgment,” is a written record of the defendant’s convictions the sentences.

Kidnapping – An abduction, taking of a hostage, or unlawfully restraining a person to facilitate the commission of an crime. An upward departure of sentencing may be warranted in either of these instances.

Mandatory Minimum – Non-discretionary penalties required by law, such as the federal drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum penalties.

*See Federal Sentencing Guidelines above. To read more about Federal Sentencing Guidelines, click here.

Misdemeanor: A crime that’s punishable by one year of imprisonment, or less.

Misprision of a Felony – The concealment and/or nondisclosure of a felony by a person who did not participate in the committed crime. Example – John Iseenit, the man who knows that his friend, Bill Idunit, robbed a bank yet he allows Bill to hide out in his home along with the stolen cash. When the cops stop by to ask if John knows Bill’s whereabouts, he lies and says he does not.

Obstruction of Justice: Obstruction of Justice is a very broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

For more about obstruction, see When Lying Becomes A Crime: Obstruction Of Justice

Offense Level: The severity level of an offense as determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are rules that determine how much or how little prison time a federal judge may impose on a defendant who has been found guilty of committing a federal crime.

To learn more about these guidelines, go here … So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

Order – The written command issued by a court or a judge.

Parole: The early and conditional release from prison. Should the parolee violate those conditions, he/she could be returned to prison to complete the remainder of their sentence. Parole, however, was abolished in the federal prison system in 1984. In lieu of parole, federal inmates earn good time credits based on their behavior during incarceration. Remember, federal inmates may earn a sentence reduction of up to 54 days per year. Good time credits are often reduced when prisoners break the rules, especially when the rules broken are serious offenses—fighting, stealing, possession of contraband such as drugs, weapons, or other prohibited material.

* Writers, please remember this one. There is no parole in the federal system. People incarcerated in federal prison after 1984 are not eligible for parole because is does not exist. I see this all the time in works of fiction.

Plea Agreement – Is an agreement whereby a defendant enters a guilty plea to avoid proceeding to trial. The agreement contains promises made by both the prosecutor and defendant, and each must must each abide by those written guarantees. Each party benefits in some way. The prosecutor avoids a lengthy and costly trial while maintaining a desired conviction rate. The defendant typically receives a shorter, more lenient sentence for agreeing to help the prosecutor maintain that upper level conviction rate.

Pre-sentence Report (“PSR”) – Prior to sentencing, a probation officer must thoroughly investigate all aspects of a defendant’s life—criminal history, family ties, work record, community ties, etc. This information is then compiled into a comprehensive report that’s filed with the courts, under seal. Also contained in the pre-sentence report is information about the offense and offender, the mandatory range of punishment, and recommendations and basis for imposing a departure above or below the guideline range.

Probation – A sentence option that allows a defendant to avoid imprisonment. Although, it’s common to see sentences comprised of some probation in conjunction with short stays in prison, such as the sentence of five years that’s split as three years behind bars with the balance of two years served as probation (this is known as a “split sentence”). Or, a sentence may be served as weekends in jail, confinement in halfway house where the offender is allowed to work during the day but return to the halfway house at night. Even home detention is a prison or jail sentence. It’s merely served in a unique way.. A person on probation is monitored by a probation officer and must follow all rules issued by the judge. Should  probationer break a rule, he may be ordered back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.

Revocation – The cancellation or reversal of an act or court order, such as when an offender violates the terms of supervised probation. The probation officer would ask that the judge revoke the offender’s supervised release and return them to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. Prisoners refer to this action as being violated.

“Why are you back in the joint, Petey?” said One-Tooth McGee.

“That &%*# probation officer violated me,” Petey said.

Sentencing Table Sentencing guideline, in months. See  So, You’ve Committed a Federal Offense: How Much Time Will You Serve?

Substantial Assistance – Assisting the government in its investigation and/or prosecution of another individual in return for a reduced sentence.  *See “Departure” above.

Vacate – Based on a factual error, to void a sentence and then remand it back to the original court for re-sentencing.

Waive – To validly give up a right, such as a right to trial or the right to remain silent.