Federal Drug Sentences Can Be Cut Retroactively
July 21, 2014 1 Comment
The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted unanimously to retroactively apply an amendment approved earlier this year that lowers federal guidelines for sentencing persons convicted of drug trafficking offenses. This means that many offenders currently in prison could be eligible for reduced sentences beginning November 2015, providing Congress takes no action to disapprove the drug guidelines amendment before November 1, 2014.
The April amendment to the guidelines lowered the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types, which means lower sentences for most drug offenders going forward. The USSC then 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.
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.
After implementing this change, the USSC estimates that:
- 46,290 offenders would be eligible to have their cases reviewed by a judge to determine if their sentences should be reduced.
- Offenders eligible for a reduction could have their sentences reduced by an average of 25 months, or 18.8%. They would still serve 108 months, on average.
- Over time, these sentence reductions could result in a savings of up to 79,740 bed years (a bed year is the equivalent of one federal prisoner occupying a prison bed for a year).