If a defendant is convicted by either pleading guilty to a charge, or by being found guilty after a trial, sentencing will take place about seventy-five days later if the defendant is in custody, or about ninety days later if the defendant is out of custody. See Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 32. A defendant convicted of some offenses will likely be remanded into custody after trial, but continued bond is allowed for less serious convictions.
Sometime after the conviction, the defendant will be interviewed by a Probation Officer, and defense counsel may be present. The Probation Officer will then take information from that interview, from forms submitted by the defendant, and from material provided by the government, and will prepare a draft pre-sentence report.
The draft pre-sentence report (or PSR) is provided to defense counsel and the government before sentencing. The parties must make factual or legal objections to the report within ten days of receipt. The court does not receive a copy of this draft report - the goal is to resolve as many factual or legal errors as possible before a PSR is provided to the judge.
Before sentencing, the final PSR is provided to the judge. This final PSR describes the defendant's background, describes the offense, and calculates the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. It lists any unresolved objections.
Also before sentencing, the parties may submit sentencing memoranda to the court, arguing for their proposed sentences.
At the sentencing hearing, the district court judge must resolve any remaining objections to the PSR, make factual findings, and must consider the factors of the key sentencing statute, 18 USC § 3553(a). Among the factors that the court must consider are the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In addition to a custodial sentence, the court will also decide how much restitution is owed, and whether a criminal fine is appropriate.
Before imposing the sentence, the court must permit the defendant to speak (or "allocute.") See Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 32(i)(4). The defendant's counsel will have good advice on what to say at this point in the sentencing hearing. A federal sentence can range from probation to months or years in federal prison. If a sentence of imprisonment is imposed, the district judge will also impose a term of supervised release whereby a defendant must abide by the law while under post-release supervision or risk additional punishment (see below).