United States Sentencing Commission Lowers Drug Guidelines

Last week the United States Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the drug guidelines by two points.   Among the purposes of this reduction is to reduce growing problems with overcrowding in federal prisons.  The guideline amendment will be retroactive but current inmates sentenced under the old system won’t be eligible for reduced sentences until November 2015.

Below is a portion of the Commission’s press release:

“The United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today at a public meeting to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively, meaning that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015.

“The Commission voted unanimously in April to amend the guidelines to lower the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types, which may mean lower sentences for most drug offenders going forward.  Today the Commission decided that judges could extend that reduction to offenders currently in prison, but with a requirement that reduced sentences cannot take effect until November 1, 2015.  Under the guidelines, no offender would be released unless a judge reviews the case to determine whether a reduced sentence poses a risk to public safety and is otherwise appropriate.

“’This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach,” said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission. “It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety.’”

“Congress has until November 1, 2014 to disapprove the amendment to reduce drug guidelines. Should Congress choose to let the guideline reductions stand, courts could then begin considering petitions from prisoners for sentence reductions, but no prisoners could be released pursuant to those reductions before November 1, 2015.”

This is definitely a step in the right direction.  On average sentences for low level drug offenders will be lowered between 6 to 12 months.

There are other guidelines in need of a reduction – say 2G2.2?   The Commission would take a step in the direction of reducing prison overcrowding if they amended the child pornography guidelines to make sense and reflect the relative culpability of viewers as compared to producers.  Distribution guidelines should distinguish between those who have their file sharing software set on the default “share” versus those who are actively sending out pornography to viewers and who are receiving monetary compensation.