The last twelve months have seen important changes to the criminal federal sentencing guidelines. These changes affect how drug sentences are calculated for new offenders. The new rules also bring new hope to thousands of federal inmates currently incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses.
Congress is committed to revising and updating federal sentencing guidelines across the broad spectrum of criminal offenses. While some offenders may see immediate relief, many fail to realize that, while significant, the new rules will be implemented over many months to come. It is crucial for all people facing federal prosecution for drug offenses to be aware of the sentencing guidelines as they currently read, and as they are expected to change.
The Sentencing Guidelines
The current federal sentencing guidelines provide a baseline for judges to begin to calculate a federal criminal sentence. All federal crimes, including drug crimes, are assigned a base number on a scale of 1 to 40, with 1 being the most lenient and 40 being the most severe. This is called the “base offense level”. A series of points can be, and often are, added to the base offense level. These additions are called enhancements, because they increase the base offense level, thereby increasing – or “enhancing” – the sentence. In drug cases, factors such as the type of drug, the weight involved, the defendant’s criminal history and whether a weapon was involved are the common enhancements. Often times, as much as a 2 or 3 point enhancement can add an extra year or more to a sentence.
The “Minus 2” Reduction
Congress recently passed an amendment to the sentencing guidelines, calling for a 2 level reduction in the base offense plus enhancement formula mentioned above. It is important to note that this new reduction is primarily for non-violent drug offenses. Congress also made this new change retroactive, which means it applies to both new sentences and sentences issued by the courts since 1986. For new cases, the 2 level reduction will be applied right at sentencing. For offenders currently in prison, the 2 levels is applied to the original sentence. Over 50,000 sentences are expected to be shortened due to this new change, although the length of time will vary from case to case.
What Can I Do?
It is critical to understand these new changes when faced with a felony drug case. The attorneys at the Ozols Law Firm are up to date on these new laws, and provide crucial assistance and guidance when defending your case. Don’t go it alone; call our office today to see how we can help.