Changes to federal sentencing guidelines now apply

As of the beginning of the month, reforms in the way the Federal Sentencing Guidelines deal with drug cases went into effect. The changes, which were approved by the Sentencing Commission earlier this year, will result in relief both in the way drug offenders are sentenced and in the sentence severity for some federal inmates. The changes will allow those who have been sentenced to apply for sentence reductions, though no changes will be made to sentences at or below mandatory minimums.

Readers may be aware that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines work with two basic factors in coming to a decision about sentencing. One factor is the offender’s criminal history. The other factor is the offense level, which is determined by the nature of the offense conduct. In drug cases, the offense level can be increased, for example, when there is a greater quantity of drugs. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the change specifically made it so that drug quantities which would result in mandatory minimum sentences at least do not result in longer minimum sentences. 

An example given by FAMM on its website is that those convicted of possessing 280 grams of crack cocaine would normally be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years up to over 12 years, but under the changes the range would top out at just over 10 years. The approach, which has been called “all drugs minus 2,” reduces the recommended guidelines for most drug crimes.

Those who are charged with a federal drug crime should always work with an experienced attorney to ensure they are able to keep the consequences of charges to a minimum and take advantage of available legal protections along the way.

Source:, “Federal Sentencing Reforms Go Into Effect Today,” Phillip Smith, Nov. 1, 2014. 

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