The United States Sentencing Commission ("USSC"), an independent
agency in the judicial branch, has voted unanimously to amend the federal
sentencing guidelines to reduce the sentences for most drug trafficking
offenses. Perhaps most notably, this amendment will apply retroactively.
Therefore, the amendment could shorten sentences for nearly 50,000 people
who are currently incarcerated for drug trafficking offenses. Under these
amended guidelines, eligible individuals may ask for, and be granted,
a hearing in front of a federal judge to determine whether or not their
sentence can be reduced to match the new guidelines. Offenders whose sentencing
reduction requests are approved may be released from prison as early as
November 1, 2015.
So what does this mean for offenders that are currently incarcerated in
Drug trafficking is the selling, manufacture, distribution, or possession of more than
a certain large amount of a controlled substance. An incarcerated person
who was convicted of drug trafficking may be eligible for early release
due to these amendments. The USSC is essentially saying that they were
too harsh in sentencing drug trafficking offenders in the past and are
now willing reduce those sentences in certain situations.
No offenders will automatically receive a sentence reduction but the amended
guidelines will apply to most imprisoned persons who were convicted of
drug trafficking offenses and will give such eligible persons the opportunity
to apply for a sentencing reduction hearing in front of a district court
judge. The USSC estimates that eligible offenders will see average sentence
reductions of almost 19 percent. Additionally, while eligibility is not
limited by criminal history, violence, or type of drug trafficked, these
factors, among others, may be considered in a sentencing hearing. The
USSC has specifically noted that public safety will be a crucial factor
to be considered in such a hearing.
On April 30, 2014, the USSC submitted the amended guidelines to Congress,
specifically reducing "by two the offense levels assigned in the
Drug Quantity Table, resulting in lower guideline ranges for most drug
trafficking offenses." On July 18, 2014, the USSC voted to make the
amendments retroactive so that they will apply to people who have already
been sentenced under the old guidelines and are currently imprisoned.
Because Congress did not modify or reject the amendments they went into
effect on November 1, 2014.
These amendments represent an extension of the continued political efforts
to reform federal drug sentencing laws. For example, the crack/powder
cocaine sentencing disparity and the Smarter Sentencing Act have also
both been addressed in recent years. In fact, the USSC has maintained
that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses is a significant contributor
to the racial disparity and overcrowding that has plagued the nation's
prison system. Moreover, the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") currently
operates at nearly 140 percent capacity and more than half of the prisoners
housed within the BOP are serving time for drug law violations. Consequently,
the USSC has characterized these amendments as a step toward greater "fairness,
justice, fiscal responsibility, and public safety." In a recent press
release commenting on the sentencing amendments, the USSC implored Congress
to address mandatory minimum sentencing penalties.
Judges may begin considering motions based on these amended sentencing
guidelines as early as November 1, 2014 and may allow offenders to be
released as early as November 1, 2015 so
contact Dummit Fradin today for a free consultation if a loved one is currently
incarcerated for a drug trafficking charge and you believe he may be eligible
for a sentence reduction.