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December 3, 2023

Lots of (little?) stories in USSC's FY 2023 fourth quarter sentencing data release

Late last week, the US Sentencing Commission released on its website this latest quarterly data report, labelled "4th Quarter Release, Preliminary Fiscal Year 2023 Data Through September 30, 2023."  These new data provide the latest accounting of federal sentencings, and this latest data run seems to reflects the impact of the USSC 2023 guideline amendments.  Technically, the new guidelines did not become effective until November 1, 2023.  But the pending guidelines  — which, inter alia, changed some criminal history rules to benefit defendants — likely explains why Figure 2 shows a decline in the number of sentences imposed over the summer.  I suspect some judges delayed some sentencings until the new guidelines were effective.  Similarly, Figure 3 shows a record high number of variances in the last quarter, likely because some judges went forward with sentencings this summer and gave defendants the benefit of pending guidelines through a variance.

As I have noted before, a big COVID era trend was a historically large number of below-guideline variances, and this trend has now persisted over the last 13 quarters of official USSC data (as detailed in Figures 3 and 4).  I continue to believe this trend is mostly a facet of the different caseload and case mixes.  As I have also flagged before, for anyone who has long followed federal sentencing data and debates, the USSC's latest data on drug sentencing reflected in Figures 11 and 12 are especially striking.  These figures show, nearly half of all federal drug sentencings last fiscal year involved methamphetamine (roughly 9000 total), whereas fewer than 1000 crack defendants and fewer than 600 marijuana defendants were sentenced in federal court in FY 2023.

Finally, these fiscal year data provide just another reminder of the scope of the federal sentencing system.  The data show around 63,500 total sentences imposed in FY23, of with 92.5% included an imprisonment term.  These data mean that in an average week, an average of over 1,200 persons receive a federal sentence, and of those over 1,100 are being sentenced to federal prison.  

December 3, 2023 at 07:20 PM | Permalink


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