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October 31, 2014

New reduced federal drug sentencing guidelines about to become official

Hard core federal sentencing nerds know that November 1 is a special day because it is the official date on which any proposed changes to the sentencing guidelines proposed by the US Sentencing Commission become official in the absence of congressional rejection thereof.  Tomorrow, November 1, 2014, is especially notable because it will make official the most significant and consequential reduction in guideline sentencing ranges in history.  This USSC press release, which includes a statement from the chair of the USSC, provides background context for why this is such a big deal: 

[Background:] The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch charged with setting federal sentencing guidelines, voted unanimously in April to reduce sentencing guidelines levels for most drug trafficking offenses and voted unanimously again in July to make that change retroactive.  Because Congress has not acted to disapprove the Commission’s actions, the amendment becomes effective tomorrow.  Offenders sentenced after tomorrow will be sentenced under the new, reduced guidelines, and current prisoners may begin petitioning courts for sentence reductions based on retroactive application of the reduced guidelines. Prisoners can have their sentences reduced if courts determine that they are eligible and a reduction is appropriate, and they may not be released pursuant to such reductions before November 1, 2015.

[Comment by USSC Chair Patti Saris:] “The reduction in drug guidelines that becomes effective tomorrow represents a significant step toward the goal the Commission has prioritized of reducing federal prison costs and overcrowding without endangering public safety.  Commissioners worked together to develop an approach that advances the causes of fairness, justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety, and I am very pleased that we were able to agree unanimously on this reasonable solution.  I am also gratified that Congress permitted this important reform to go forward.

This amendment is an important start toward addressing the problem of over-incarceration at the federal level. Commission researchers estimate that applying the amendment going forward may reduce the prison population by 6,500 in five years and far more over time, while more than 46,000 current prisoners could be eligible to have their sentences reduced by retroactive application of the amendment.  Still, only Congress can act to fully solve the crisis in federal prison budgets and populations and address the many systemic problems the Commission has found resulting from mandatory minimum penalties.  I hope that Congress will act promptly to pass comprehensive sentencing reform legislation.”

October 31, 2014 at 04:33 PM | Permalink


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Is there any sense of how the federal judges will respond, given that any sentence reduction is discretionary? Why is it that in one jurisdiction CJA counsel payment is disallowed to litigate these motions? Finally, how will the system handle transportation of inmates to the courts? Many federal inmates sentenced in my state of Connecticut are scattered throughout the country. Thanks. Conrad Ost Seifert, Old Lyme, Connecticut

Posted by: Conrad Ost Seifert | Nov 1, 2014 10:38:57 AM

Check and see how this has been done with previous Guideline reductions (i.e., Crack minus Two). The motions were overwhelmingly handled by Federal Defender's Offices, which apparently is NOT a violation of their enabling statute, (altho seeking commutations from the Pardon Atty IS a violation). There is no right for the inmate to be present at any resentencing hearing,and in fact the vast majority of these cases are handled on the papers, so transportation is really not an issue. Most judges are fairly receptive, though there are, of course, exceptions.

Posted by: anon | Nov 2, 2014 4:20:32 PM

Our paralegal took the money and ran, so my gal has written her Judge and he will have the letter Monday morning so we will see how VA district handles the sentence reduction request.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 2, 2014 11:20:14 PM

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