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Important Changes to the United States Guidelines

Ryan Mardock
June 26, 2016

The United States Sentencing Committee recently voted to reduce the base offense level for all federal drug crimes. On July 18, 2014, the committee further voted that this change will be imposed retroactively. As a result, every individual currently incarcerated for a federal drug crime will have the opportunity to petition the court for a reduction to his or her sentence based upon the two-point decrease.

Before sentencing a defendant, a federal judge must first consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines.  The sentencing table forms part of the analysis that must be performed by the court. In a nutshell, every federal crime corresponds with a number. This number will be increased or decreased based upon several factors. Once ascertained, the number becomes the “base offense level.” The base offense level corresponds with a “guideline range” suggesting the amount of custody time that is appropriate for this offense. The guideline range is only a suggestion, and the court is not bound by this recommendation.

With the newly implemented two-point reduction, the guideline range will be substantially less. Therefore, the courts must take another look at each case to decide if a reduction in the imposed sentence is appropriate. Again, the court is required to consider the guideline range when imposing a sentence. As such, if the guideline range that was calculated is now erroneous based upon this change, the court must review and consider the correct calculations.

Here is an example:

Defendant X was charged and convicted of importing Methamphetamine into the United States. The base offense for this crime historically has been a level 38. Therefore, the congressional recommendation for this crime, assuming the defendant has no prior criminal history, is a sentence between 235-293 months in custody. With the newly enacted two-point reduction, the defendant would have a base offense level of 36. The guideline recommendation would then fall between 188-235 months, a nearly 4-year difference.

The courts have begun accepting motions to reduce sentence based upon the two-point reduction as of November 1, 2014.