Post Date: June 4, 2013
Every year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which writes the federal Sentencing Guidelines, suggests changes to the guidelines. These are known as guideline amendments. The process starts when the Commission publishes a list of priorities – issues it wants to tackle – and asks the public for feedback on whether that list is right.
The Commission published its 2014 list of priorities on May 30. You have until July 15, 2013, to comment on that list.
FAMM always responds to the Commission’s priorities, and you should, too. It’s important that the Commissioners know the public is paying attention to what they do and that their actions matter to thousands.
So, please carefully read the list of priorities linked here, which includes an explanation on how to comment. If one or more of the priorities strike you as important, please write the Commission, citing the amendment by number.
FAMM supports all but one of the priorities. The priorities that are especially important to us are listed below with a brief explanation. Feel free to write about these and any other amendments that matter to you.
Continue the Commission’s work in Congress to reform mandatory minimum penalties and promote reforms it suggested in its 2011 Mandatory Minimum Report. These include, among other things:
o Adopting a safety valve, like the one currently used for drug defendants, for low-level, nonviolent offenders convicted of non-drug crimes;
o Expanding the current drug safety valve to apply to people with more criminal history than currently covered;
o Reassessing the severity of two- and three-strikes drug sentences;
o Eliminating “stacking” of multiple gun sentences; ensuring extra sentences for recidivism apply only to defendants with prior gun convictions; and lowering the current 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for second gun offenses.
Possibly amend drug sentencing guidelines “across drug types.” This is code for what we call “All drugs minus two” and means the Commission is considering reducing sentencing guidelines for all drugs by two full levels. Long-time FAMM supporters will remember that the Commission lowered the crack cocaine sentence guideline by two full levels in 2007 (and raised them back again in 2010). This is a longstanding FAMM priority that we have urged the Commission to act on. It would shorten drug guideline sentences (but would have no impact on mandatory minimum drug sentences).
Study and possibly amend the guidelines covering economic crimes, including examining the “loss” table.
Continue studying definitions of “crime of violence,” “aggravated felony,” “violent felony,” and “drug trafficking offense.”
Continue to study recidivism and what circumstances increase or decrease it and how such information could be used to reduce costs of incarceration.
Undertake a study of sentencing related to violations of probation and supervised release.
Possibly amend the policy statement guiding judges who are considering compassionate release. FAMM is very interested in expanding the use of compassionate release for prisoners.
Review and possibly amend the guidelines for firearm offenses.
Promote in Congress the Commission’s recommendations from its 2012 report on child pornography sentencing, which found that nonproduction sentences are often severe.
FAMM opposes Amendment # 3
We do not want the Commission to promote legislation that will make the federal sentencing guidelines more mandatory by eliminating some of the discretion judges currently have. The Commission’s recommendations can be found in its 2012 Booker Report and our opinion of it can be seen here.
Finally, for the first time in our memory, the Commission asks that public comment “address the issue of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons” as it relates to each priority. This is very important because as a matter of law, the Commission is supposed to take prison capacity into account when creating sentences. It has never done so, however. This is an important step for the Commission, because for years it has created and increased sentencing guidelines that have helped fill the federal prisons to overflowing.
So, please write to the Commission before July 15, 2013. The letters do not need to sound lawyerly. They simply need to refer to the specific amendment(s) you are writing about (use the amendment number) and explain in plain language why the amendment matters to you. Feel free to share your own experience with sentencing if you have one, and how that has informed your opinion.
Letters should be addressed to:
The United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle, N.E., Suite 2-500
Washington, D.C. 20002-8002
Attn: Public Affairs – Priorities Comment.
You should not expect an answer. We will keep you informed about the amendment process as the year unfolds, as well as how many letters the Commission receives from the public.
Thanks so much!
Julie Stewart, President
June 4, 2013