Federal Prisoners May Now Be Eligible to Have their Sentences Reduced
When the clock struck midnight on November 1st, thousands of federal prisoners sentenced for drug-related offenses saw a chance to have their prison terms reduced. This was because federal drug sentencing reforms that were adopted earlier this year went into effect on that date. As many as 46,000 prisoners currently incarcerated for narcotics offenses may be able to see a reduction in their sentences through retroactive application of new sentencing guidelines.
The new guidelines were unanimously approved back in April by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent organization within the federal judiciary. Only a few months later, the Sentencing Commission unanimously approved retroactive application of the new guidelines. This means those currently in prison under federal drug laws can now petition the courts for a review, not just those defendants facing future sentencing dates. A judge will then evaluate their current sentences against the new guidelines and reduce sentences where appropriate.
The new guidelines are an attempt to reverse two decades of harsh sentencing practices stemming from the failed “War on Drugs.” Even low-level drug offenses netted heavy prison sentences as politicians, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors sought to demonize drug users and sellers. This had the effect of greatly increasing federal prison costs and causing explosive growth of the federal prison population. According to the Bureau of Prisons, drug defendants make up 48.8%–nearly half—of the entire federal prisoner population in the country. And many of them were simple recreational users–not traffickers, distributors, or sellers. The new guidelines established by the Sentencing Commission reflect recent efforts by the Obama Administration and a bipartisan effort in Congress to reverse some of the unduly severe and counterproductive effects of the catastrophic War on Drugs.
Three Important Points to Ponder
There are three important points to keep in mind if you or a loved one plans to file a petition to review a federal drug sentence. First, while judges may begin to review harsh sentences now, any release or sentence reduction won’t come for at least another year. This is because the courts are attempting to put the guidelines in place and make them particularly applicable to new offenders. Additionally, the courts will need that time to address the likely influx of petitions. Second, those serving mandatory minimum sentences are unable to have their sentences reviewed. This is because those mandatory minimum sentences are set by Congress into law, and only an act of Congress can alter those requirements. But any other federal prisoner convicted of drug-related offenses who has served or is serving time in excess of the mandatory minimums may seek review.
Third, you’ll need a lawyer. No lay person should take on such a task alone. Please contact Attorney Tony Moss at the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. to discuss your situation. He has locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and is prepared to put his skill and expertise to work for you.