U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes for Two-Level Reduction for Drug Offenders

By Craig Coscarelli

In a vote that may not be historic but is still very important and a sign of the times, the US Sentencing Commission earlier yesterday voted to publish proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines which include an across-the-board reduction in the sentences recommended for all drug offenses. This official press release effectively summarizes and contextualizes this proposed amendment and others that were voted upon at the USSC’s public meeting:

The United States Sentencing Commission voted January 9, 2014 to publish proposed guideline amendments, including possible reductions to the sentencing guidelines levels for federal drug trafficking offenses. Another proposed amendment addressed implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

The bipartisan Commission voted to seek comment on a proposed amendment to lower by two [2] levels the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types in guideline § 2D1.1, which governs drug trafficking cases. Commission analysis indicates that such a change in the guidelines would result in a reduction of approximately 11 months for those drug trafficking offenders who would benefit, resulting in a reduction in the federal prison population of approximately 6,550 inmates by the fifth year after the change.

With this reduction, the sentencing guideline penalties for drug traffickers would remain consistent with pertinent drug trafficking statutes, including existing 5 and 10 year statutory mandatory minimum penalties, by structuring the Drug Quantity Table based on levels 24 and 30 (which correspond to a guideline range of 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively), rather than the existing levels of 26 and 32 (which correspond to 63 to 78 months and 121 to 151 months, respectively).

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Sixth Circuit: Fair Sentencing Act Retroactively Applies

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which lowered the threshold quantities of crack cocaine required to trigger mandatory minimum sentences, retroactively applies to all defendants sentenced for crack offenses prior to the law’s enactment. United States v. Blewett, No. 12-5226/5582, 2013 WL 2121945

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