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April 30, 2017

A rare year without any formal amendments to the US Sentencing Guidelines

Download (1)Hard-core federal sentencing nerds like me know that the end of April/start of May is the time period each year when the US Sentencing Commission submits formal guideline amendments to Congress.  And, as noted in this post from December, just before a number of Commissioners' terms expired, the USSC unanimously voted to publish some ambitious proposed amendments for 2017.

But, is seems personnel transitions mean 2017 will go in the books as one of the rare years without any formal amendments to the guidelines. Acting USSC Chair Judge William Pryor explained why in these remarks given before the start of the USSC public hearing a few weeks ago:

Although the Commission again has the four voting members required to promulgate guideline amendments, the lack of a voting quorum for almost three critical months of our amendment cycle means we will not be able to promulgate amendments this year.  Those who closely follow us know that in December, we voted to publish several proposed amendments for comment, among them an amendment that would add a downward adjustment and encourage the use of alternatives for some first-time offenders, and amendments that would respond to recommendations made by the Tribal Issues Advisory Group regarding how tribal offenses and juvenile sentences are considered.

The public comment period has closed.  We received a great deal of thoughtful public comment, which can be reviewed on our website.  We thank the public for taking the time to give careful consideration to these proposals.

Ordinarily, we would have received testimony about the proposed amendments at a public hearing in March.  But with only two voting commissioners we deferred scheduling a hearing until a reconstituted Commission was formed.

By statute, the Commission is required to submit any amendments to the guidelines to Congress by May 1st for a 180-day congressional review period.  Because we did not have a voting quorum for almost three months, there simply is not enough time for us to schedule a public hearing on the proposed amendments, digest the public comment, deliberate, and hold a public vote by the statutory deadline.  Therefore, this year we will not promulgate any amendments to the guidelines.  But our data analysis, legal research, and public comment on these proposed amendments should provide us a sound basis for considering guideline amendments as early as possible during the next amendment cycle.

April 30, 2017 at 10:29 PM | Permalink


I would appreciate it if a lawyer in this specialty can briefly tell us how any output of this Commission is still being used in real life, and recently.

If it is an advisory output, do judges read it, and are any influenced by it? Is Congress doing anything with its products, other than thanking the members for its services?

Is it now a think tank, a research organization? Do people still count upward or downward deviations in real world sentencing? Are its recommendations based on any data or results, such as recidivism or drops in crime?

These questions are not rhetorical or sarcastic. I would really like to learn more about the real world effects of the work of this Commission.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 10:41:05 PM

Click through the links and read about the continuing work of the Commission and you will have some answers.

Posted by: Doug B | May 1, 2017 12:21:19 PM

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