U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Lower Federal Drug Sentences

Post Date: April 10, 2014

FAMM applauds Sentencing Commission for modifying federal drug sentence guidelines

CONTACT: Mike Riggs
mriggs@famm.org
202-822-6706

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The seven-member U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today to amend federal drug sentencing guidelines. The change will reduce federal drug sentences by an average of 11 months.

“We commend the Sentencing Commission for taking this important step toward reforming federal drug sentences,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “This change will save taxpayers money, help to rein in federal prison spending, and bolster the spirits of tens of thousands of federal defendants who are facing impractical and disproportionately long sentences.”

Referred to by FAMM as “all drugs minus two,” the amendment adjusts the Drug Quantity Table federal judges use to calculate sentences. Here’s how it works: The quantity tables place specific quantities of each controlled substance in corresponding sentencing “levels,” which in turn contain a range of recommended sentences based on a defendant’s criminal history. For instance, under the current guidelines, a drug offense involving at least 10 grams of methamphetamine, but not more than 20 grams, is in sentencing level 18, where  the recommended sentence range for an offender with one or no criminal history points is 27-33 months. Under the new guidelines adopted today by the Sentencing Commission, the same quantity of methamphetamine will be a level 16 offense, which means the recommended sentence range for a first-time offense will be 21-27 months.   

“This is a terrific, if modest, first step toward genuine sentencing reform for drug offenders,” said Mary Price, legal counsel for FAMM and an expert on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. “The next step is for Congress to pick up where the Commission left off by passing the Smarter Sentencing Act.”

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced in August 2013 that it would take up modifying drug sentences as part of its “statutory mandate to work to reduce overcapacity in federal prisons.” The drug quantity table amendment, along with others approved today by the Sentencing Commission, will go to Congress in May. Barring legislative objections, the new guidelines will become law on November 1, 2014. Unless the Commission votes to make the new guidelines retroactive, they will impact only those defendants sentenced after Nov. 1, 2014. The Commission voted today to conduct a prison impact study before voting on retroactivity.