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January 3, 2023

Timely new CRS review of US Sentencing Commission's guideline amendment process and plans

A helpful colleague alerted me to a new Congressional Research Service “Legal Sidebar” which efficiently covers the US Sentencing Commission's history, its amendments process, and some of its stated priorities for 2022-23 guideline amendments.  This five-page report is titled "Back in Action, the U.S. Sentencing Commission to Resolve Circuit Splits on Controlled Substances and Sentencing Reductions," and it starts this way:

In 1984, Congress revolutionized federal sentencing.  That year, Congress established the U.S. Sentencing Commission (the Commission) as an independent agency within the judicial branch and directed it to promulgate the first-ever federal sentencing guidelines.  In 1987, the Commission published the inaugural U.S. Sentencing Guidelines manual (the Guidelines), which serves as the starting point and anchor for every federal sentence imposed across the country. Over 1.9 million defendants have been sentenced under the Guidelines since their inception.

Congress also required the Commission to “review and revise” the Guidelines, which it has done periodically.  Between 2019 and July 2022, however, the Commission lacked a quorum and therefore the ability to propose amendments to the Guidelines. In August 2022, the Senate confirmed a full slate of seven new commissioners, restoring the Commission’s quorum and thus enabling the Commission to initiate its amendments process.  As a part of that process, in November 2022, the Commission published a list of final priorities for analysis and possible action.  According to a timetable fixed in statute, should the Commission study a priority and approve prospective changes to the Guidelines, the Commission will submit the proposed amendments to Congress by May 1, 2023.  Congress then has until November 1, 2023, to affirmatively reject any such amendments, or the amendments will take effect.

This Sidebar addresses one of the Commission’s listed priorities: the resolution of two conflicts among the federal appeals courts involving the Guidelines.  The first conflict relates to whether, for a “controlled substance offense” to trigger the Guidelines’ “career offender” recidivist enhancement, the underlying controlled substance must be prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) or whether a controlled substance prohibited only under state law can also lead to the career offender enhancement.  The second conflict pertains to whether federal prosecutors may withhold a sentencing reduction from a federal defendant because the defendant raised a pre-trial Fourth Amendment challenge to the government’s evidence.

January 3, 2023 at 07:28 PM | Permalink


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