June 11, 2014: Federal Prison—Update on 2 Point Reduction

The federal prison rumor mill is in overdrive. We at National Prison and Sentencing Consultants (NPSC) have been receiving countless calls and emails from clients, family and friends regarding the possible retroactivity of the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) Amendments to the drug guidelines by two points across the board. Many people are under the (false) impression that come November 2014 a vast number of drug offenders will be released from federal prison. Although such is possible, that has not yet occurred and we urge all to contact the USSC and urge that the amendments be applied to all non-violent drug offenders without limitation.

Yesterday, June 10, 2014, the USSC conducted a public hearing and heard from Federal judges, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, public defenders, defense lawyers, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and others. The debate focused on whether the amendments should be applied to all incarcerated drug offenders or whether, as urged by the Department of Justice, “limited” retroactivity should be adopted. The DOJ is urging that that the amendments be applied retroactively to only those drug offenders who have no priors, no role enhancements and whose offense did not involve any weapons. At first blush, this seems reasonable. However, NPSC believes that such limitations will take away the judges’ historical and time honored role in sentencing and in re-sentencing—-to review the individual facts of the case ,“judge” the person accordingly and then impose a sentence that they deem to be reasonable. In our mitigation work, NPSC has seen the application of the so called “gun enhancement” where small time marijuana dealers stored an old hunting rifle in the same structure as the marijuana; we have seen the gun enhancement applied in situations where the gun was not used in connection or in furtherance of the drug offense; we have seen role enhancements applied when they were clearly inapplicable.

There are incalculable individual offense and offender characteristics and circumstances which need to be reviewed by a judge to determine whether a particular inmate —based on the particulars of their offense—warrants a reduction in their sentence. The DOJ’s proposal will prevent a federal judge from looking at the particular facts of an inmate’s case to determine their level of culpability and dangerousness. We believe that the DOJ should let judges be judges and allow them the discretion to examine the details of an inmate’s offense, character, history and prison record and determine whether they should receive a reduced sentence. Like the DOJ, we do not want to see violent, dangerous criminals released—-but we want the judge to decide who is dangerous and who is not.

The Commission needs to hear from you NOW and we ask that you urge the Commission to adopt retroactivity without limitation and let the judge decide whether an inmate should receive a reduced sentence. Email the Commission at: public_comment@ussc.gov.

As always, if you have any questions please contact National Prison and Sentencing Consultants at mailto: john@nationalprisonconsultants.com or at 615-696-6153.

We urge all to write or email your comments to the USSC at public_comment@ussc.gov.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call National Prison and Sentencing Consultants at 615-696-6153 or email us at help@nationalprisonconsultants.com