Sentencing Reform

Excessively harsh laws and sentencing guidelines destroy families and communities.

Just as people change, our understanding of justice does, too. Sentencing reform aims to reflect that and change laws that result in unduly long sentences. Our work focuses on mandatory minimum and sentencing guideline reform.

Criminal justice reform starts with sentencing reform. We work with lawmakers to ensure that sentences fit and serve public safety.

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    Mandatory Minimums

    FAMM is against mandatory minimums for ANY and ALL offenses.

    Mandatory minimum sentences are set by Congress and state lawmakers. They require judges to impose automatic, minimum prison terms for certain offenses. One-size-fits-all sentences are not based on the individual person and do not take into account each individual’s situation.

    We support repealing mandatory minimums and applying reforms prospectively and retroactively.

    For further reading on mandatory minimums, visit our Policy Resource Library.

    Dosc Manmins Site

    Court Cases: Mandatory Minimums

    Each year, in a cycle running from October to June, the U.S. Supreme Court hears and decides criminal and civil cases. Its opinions on these important cases clarify, change, limit, or enhance existing laws and constitutional rights. The Supreme Court’s opinions bind all federal courts and sometimes even bind state courts. These legal cases sometimes include challenges to sentencing laws, including mandatory minimums.

    FAMM’s work in the Supreme Court is guided by our Amicus Advisory Board.  Our amicus advisory board volunteers have extensive experience practicing law in appellate courts, including the Supreme Court. Our amicus advisory board is chaired by David Debold, and includes Amy Mason Saharia, Joshua Matz, and Peter Goldberger. Both Amy and Joshua even worked for Supreme Court Justices!

    Here are some recent important U.S. Supreme Court cases FAMM has been involved in:

    Please note: FAMM does not provide legal advice to people going through the criminal justice system or trying to get out of prison sooner. Defendants and prisoners should speak with a federal or state public defender or a private criminal defense attorney if they need legal help or think that filing an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court may benefit them.

    Stories of the Impact of Mandatory Minimums

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    Kerry’s Story: Father and Friend

    UPDATE: Erik was released in February 2021 through a resentencing to time served. Kerry Weyant’s son Erik is living the nightmare that is Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory minimum. Erik was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun into the air to ward off attackers, even though no one was hurt. In 2016, Florida changed the aggravated assault law under which Erik was charged, amending the statute to remove the mandatory minimum. If that were made it retroactive, Erik would be released. Instead, he is looking at almost a decade more behind bars. His dad remains one of his strongest advocates, reaching out to lawmakers and the media for help.

    Michael Giles

    Michael Giles: No Ordinary Defendant

    Michael is a veteran serving a mandatory 25-year sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law after he fired two shots in self-defense, shots that did not seriously injure his attacker.

    Stephan With His Daughter Stephanie (left) And Wife Karen

    Seriously Ill and Locked Up for Stealing 6 DVDs

    Too many people in Florida are serving long prison terms that don’t make communities safer. There are plenty of people locked up like Stephan Stuckey, who do not pose a risk to public safety yet languish in prison for decades, some of them seriously ill.

    Charles Scott

    “A Good Man!” When Sentencing Enhancements Add 45 Years

    “My roots weren’t strong, and when the storms of life came, I couldn’t hold on,” says Charles Scott, currently serving more than 51 years in federal prison – 45 of which are “stacked” mandatory enhancements.

    The First Step Act

    The Embodiment of True Criminal Justice Reform

    In 2018, Congress passed the landmark First Step Act with bipartisan support, and President Donald Trump signed it into law on December 21, 2018. Now, five years later, it is clear that this important criminal justice reform legislation is an overwhelming success

    However, with a presidential election on the horizon and increased social concerns with crime, the First Step Act has become an easy target for legislators and presidential candidates — with some even threatening to repeal it.

    FAMM is working hard to ensure the First Step Act remains law--and that incarcerated individuals get the justice they deserve.

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    Stories of the First Step Act

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    Gerald Tarboro

    My story is about two second chances. The first is mine – I got one. I spent 11 years in prison, and I was released a little early because of the First Step Act. The other one I want to tell you about is a second chance that I wish someone else could get. His name is Dawan Maynard, and he’s still behind bars, for another 17 years.

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    Success on the Inside: Kenny Kubinski

    UPDATE: Kenny was released from prison in May of 2020. It may seem strange but, here’s how I look at my 24 years behind bars: Success. Hear me out. When…

    Cecilia Cardenas With Sen. Booker

    Cecilia Cardenas

    My name is Cecilia Cardenas, and before I tell you anything about me, I want to make one thing really clear: The biggest misconception about former prisoners is that we’re still living the lifestyle that got us into trouble and being incarcerated. That we are dangerous. The truth is, we do not want to go back again. We had to do the time and we remember what that was like. Nobody wants to go back.

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    Robert Shipp

    “It feels like the world has given up on you. That you are just some throwaway, someone who is irredeemable.” That’s how Robert Shipp describes being sentenced to life in prison for a drug crime in 1994.

    UPDATE: Robert was released from BOP custody on July 19, 2019.

    United States Sentencing Guidelines

    Since 1987, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) has been writing and updating the federal sentencing guidelines, which are used when calculating sentences in federal cases.  Unlike mandatory minimum sentencing laws (which are mandatory), the guidelines are advisory. In other words, judges still must calculate the guidelines to establish a sentencing range in terms of months, but a judge is free to go above or below that range. FAMM supports judges using their discretion to fashion a fair sentence for the individual being sentenced, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach (like with mandatory minimums).

    The USSC proposes new guidelines for new criminal laws and issues guideline “amendments” each year that alter existing guidelines. FAMM participates in the guideline amendment process by testifying before the USSC, providing feedback and analysis of proposed changes, and meeting with USSC commissioners and staff. Since the guidelines are used to sentence over 80,000 federal offenders each year, our advocacy for more fair guidelines can have a big impact!

    For further reading on the USSC, visit our Policy Resource Library.


    USSC Amendment Cycles

    Sentencing Commission Reports and Resources

    The U.S. Sentencing Commission publishes a lot of data and issues reports on a wide variety of federal sentencing topics. Some of them, such as reports on how many people are being sentenced, and for what, are regularly updated.  Others are one-time reports. You can find links to everything here.

    Here are links to some of the research FAMM finds most helpful:

    Sentencing Reform Campaigns and Work

    TVT KeyArt

    “The Vanishing Trial” focuses on four individuals who were forced to make that excruciating choice. Each was threatened with a “trial penalty,” the term used to describe the substantially longer prison sentence a person receives if they exercise their constitutional right to trial instead of pleading guilty. We see how the trial penalty has led to the shocking disappearance of one of the most fundamental individual rights and the explosion in America’s prison population.

    Throughout the film, we hear the perspectives of national experts, including former federal judges and prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional law experts, and criminal justice reform advocates. Watch the trailer here.