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April 17, 2023

US Sentencing Commission releases FY 2023 first quarter sentencing data

Today the US Sentencing Commission released on its website its latest quarterly data report which sets forth "Preliminary Fiscal Year 2023 Data Through December 31, 2022."  These new data provide the latest accounting of how the COVID era continues to echo through federal sentencing.  For example, as reflected in Figure 2, while the three quarters prior to the pandemic averaged roughly 20,000 federal sentencings per quarter, the three quarters closing out 2020 had only between about 12,000 and 13,000 cases sentenced each quarter.  Calendar year 2021 had a partial rebounding of total cases sentenced, but the "new normal" seems to be just over 15,000 total federal cases sentenced each quarter (and Figure 2 shows that a decline in immigration cases primarily accounts for the decrease in overall cases sentenced).

As I have noted before, the other big COVID era trend was a historically large number of below-guideline variances being granted, and this trend has now extended over the last 10 quarters of offiical USSC data (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  I suspect this trend is just another facet of the different caseload and case mix.  In this most recent quarter, the official data show that only 42.2% of all federal sentences are imposed "Within Guideline Range."  This number is not an historic low, but it continues the modern statistical reality that now more federal sentences are imposed outside the guideline range (for a wide array of reasons) than are imposed inside the range.

There are a lot of interesting data and stories to mine from the last USSC data report, but for some reaosn I was especially struck by the data on drug sentencing reflected in Figures 11 and 12.  These figures show, for the latest quarter, that over 47% of all federal drug sentencings involved methamphetamine, which is more of the drug sentencingcaseload than powder and crack cocaine, heroin and fentanyl combined.  Morever, the average sentence for all those meth cases is over eight years in prison, whereas the average for all the others is under six years.  In other words, the federal "war on drugs" these days is much more focused upon, and imposes longer prison sentencing upon, the meth defendants than anyone else. 

April 17, 2023 at 06:08 PM | Permalink


I'll read the report once I post this comment. It's good that Federal judges are sentencing below the guidelines for most offenses. The prison population is still too high and needs to rapidly decline. However, it's a relief that the Federal "War on Drugs" is cooling out for now.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 18, 2023 12:27:06 AM

The sentencing laws have still be unfair to Afraican Americans,they sentence African Americans to sentences with disparities and discrimination.

Posted by: Doris Foster | Apr 20, 2023 11:15:30 AM

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