At the Federal Bar Association's Annual Tax Law Conference, Tom Zehnle comments on sentences in criminal cases brought by the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (CID). In 2012, CID saw a 93 percent conviction rate and an 81.5 percent imprisonment rate after conviction. In the 1980s, nearly 50 percent of defendants received straight probation, compared to less than 20 percent currently.
In Zehnle's experience, the terms of imprisonment handed down by federal judges in criminal tax cases have tended to stay close to the U.S. sentencing guidelines, even though those guidelines are no longer mandatory. When the guidelines were first introduced, district court judges did not like them because they removed the judges' discretion, Zehnle said. "What I've found in recent times is that things have flipped. The judges now grew up during the guidelines, and now they've got the flexibility, but they still hearken back to the guidelines," he said.