On April 10, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to amend the sentencing guidelines to lower the base offense levels across all drug types. According to its press release, “the commission estimates that approximately 70 percent of federal drug trafficking defendants would qualify for the change, with their sentences decreasing an average of…17 percent, from 62 to 51 months on average.”
Three weeks prior to the vote, TCP organized a letter from more than 40 former judges and prosecutors urging the sentencing commission to adopt the amendment, which it proposed in January. TCP’s letter highlighted the fact that the amendment “would have no negative impact on public safety and is a positive step towards controlling costs that will otherwise drain [Department of Justice] resources from other critical law enforcement activities.”
Even with the amendment in effect, the drug guidelines will remain linked to federal mandatory minimum penalties. While TCP supports growing efforts in Congress to sensibly reform the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the signers of the letter point out that this change will “allow the guidelines to remain consistent with current federal mandatory minimum sentences while reducing the federal prison population by an estimated 6,550 in the first five years.”
In a press release, TCP President Virginia Sloan called the amendment a “modest proposed change,” and “a small but important step in the right direction.”
Congress will have 180 days to make any changes before the adjustments to the guidelines take effect on November 1. Given the widespread bipartisan support for these changes, as well as increasing bipartisan support for legislation that would reduce harsh and unbalanced sentences, the amendment is likely to take effect unchanged.