U.S. Sentencing Commission – FAMM

U.S. Sentencing Commission

New: Fact Sheet: United States Sentencing Commission

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. 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 better guidelines can have a big impact! FAMM believes that the advisory guidelines should be used instead of mandatory minimum sentences because they provide courts with guidance as well as flexibility to make the punishment fit the crime and the individual.

2022-2023 Amendment Cycle

Amendment Cycle Archive

Sentencing Guideline Reports and Resources

  • Understanding the Difference: Guidelines vs. Mandatory Minimums
  • Sentencing Commission Quick Facts
  • Retroactivity Analyses
  • Understanding the Difference: Armed Career Criminal vs. Career Offender:
    • An Armed Career Criminal is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. Federal law prohibits people with prior felony convictions from possessing firearms and/or ammunition. A person convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm can be sentenced under the federal sentencing guidelines to a sentence no longer than ten years. But, a person can be sentenced as an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. sec. 924(e)(1) (“ACCA”) when she is:
      1. convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition under 18 U.S.C. sec. 922 (g), AND
      2. is found at sentencing to have three prior violent felonies [1] and/or serious drug offenses.

      This is a mandatory minimum sentence. There is no safety valve for ACCA sentences. The only way a defendant can escape the ACCA mandatory minimum sentence is if the government successfully makes a motion to the court to reduce the sentence for substantial assistance to the government.

      2. A Career Offender is not subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.   Rather, one is sentenced according to the advisory federal Sentencing Guidelines under Sec. 4B1.1. When Congress authorized the Sentencing Commission and directed it to write sentencing guidelines, it told the Commission that the guidelines should recommend a sentence at or near the statutory maximum for defendants who are

      1. convicted of crimes of violence or drug offenses, who have
      2. two or more prior convictions for crimes of violence [2] or drug offenses.

      This is a guideline sentence. Judges are free to depart and/or vary from the Career Offender guideline. These sentences are frequently very long and judges do not always think they are just or necessary.

      [1] The Supreme Court decided a case that limited the kinds of prior violent convictions that can count toward the three needed to trigger ACCA.
      [2] The U.S. Sentencing Commission has proposed changing the Career Offender guideline to align it with a recent Supreme Court decision about which crimes of violence trigger sentences under ACCA.

News of Interest

On October 24, 2022, FAMM hosted an event about the return of the Sentencing Commission. The panel featured Mary Price, Erica Zunkel, and Jamar Ezell. Together, the panelists shared reflections on the history of the Commission, insights into the challenges and opportunities with this upcoming amendment cycle, and the stakes of the Commission’s decision for impacted people. You can watch it below: