Update from the U.S. Sentencing Commission

Post Date: January 9, 2014

On January 9, the U.S. Sentencing Commission held a public meeting and voted to publish proposed changes (“amendments”) to the federal sentencing guidelines, which are used in all federal criminal cases. One of the proposed amendments would reduce the sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenses by two base offense levels, for all types of drugs listed in guideline § 2D1.1. This so-called “all drugs minus two” amendment would fix technical problems that produce federal drug guideline sentences that are unnecessarily longer than the mandatory minimum drug sentences. If adopted, the amendment will not go into effect until November 1, 2014.

The proposed drug guideline change, along with several other guideline changes, will be published sometime next week. Once the proposed amendments are published, FAMM supporters and the general public will have 60 days to submit their thoughts (called “public comments”) on the proposed changes. Check back here next week for sample “public comments” and instructions on how to write and send them to the Commission.

At this time, the proposed “all drugs minus two” guideline amendment is not retroactive. It also does not change any federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. The Commission plans to hold a hearing on the proposed amendments on March 13. Later this year, after the public comment period closes, the Commission will vote on whether to adopt the proposed guideline amendments. Assuming the Commission approves “all drugs minus two,” the Commission will likely hold a hearing and accept public comments on whether it should make that amendment retroactive. We’ll let you know, here on our website, when it is time to write to the Commission about retroactivity.

Read the proposed “all drugs minus two” amendment here.

Read the Sentencing Commission’s press release about “all drugs minus two” here.

Read the other six proposed guideline amendments: VAWAFelon in Possession5G1.35D1.22L1.11B1.10.

The “all drugs minus two” amendment will, if it goes into effect later this year, reduce drug sentences by approximately 11 months, saving about 6,550 prison bed years over the first five years the new guidelines are in effect. This would help lessen overcrowding in the Bureau of Prisons, which is currently at 37 percent over its capacity. It would also save the Department of Justice money, ensuring that it can maintain its current levels of funding for law enforcement and prosecution and keep the public safe.

The proposed drug guideline amendment is a positive development, but it cannot fix the real cause of our massive and expensive federal prison system: mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Only Congress can change our mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and it is currently considering several bills that would do that. FAMM is supporting both bills and urging Congress to pass them. Click here to urge your federal lawmakers to support the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410/H.R. 3382) and the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 619/H.R. 1695).