Proposed Amendments To Federal Sentencing Guidelines

In December, 2016, the United States Sentencing Commission proposed certain amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that would be helpful for first offenders in that a 1-2 point reduction in the sentencing guidelines has been proposed. Part A of the proposed amendment was, in part, the result of a multi-year study of recidivism which included an examination of factors that correlate with increased or reduced recidivism. See United States Sentencing Commission, “Notice of Final Priorities,” 81 FR 58004 (Aug. 24, 2016).

The proposed amendments can be found at Part A sets forth a new guideline at §4C1.1 that provides for lower guidelines for first offenders generally and increases the availability of alternatives to incarceration for defendants at the lower levels of the guidelines. The Sentencing Commission concluded that the recidivism data indicates that first offenders generally posed the lowest risk of recidivism and, therefore, these amendments were warranted. In addition, 28 U.S.C. § 994(j) directs that alternatives to incarceration are generally appropriate for first offenders not convicted of a violent or otherwise serious offense. The new Chapter Four Guideline, in conjunction with the revision to §5C1.1 (Imposition of a Term of Imprisonment) discussed below, would further implement the congressional directive of section 994(j).

The Sentencing Commission also proposes to amend U.S.S.G. §5C1.1 (imposition of a Term of Imprisonment) to add a new subsection (g) that provides that if (1) the defendant is determined to be a first offender under §4C1.1 (First Offender), (2) [the instant offense of conviction is not a crime of violence][the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon in connection with the offense], and (3) the guideline range applicable to that defendant is in Zone A or Zone B of the Sentencing Table, the court ordinarily should impose a sentence other than a sentence of imprisonment in accordance with the other sentencing options.

Part B of the proposed amendments proposed consolidation of Zones B and C in the Sentencing Table. These amendments were the result of the Commission’s continued study of approaches to encourage the use of alternatives to incarceration. See United States Sentencing Commission, “Notice of Final Priorities,” 81 FR 58004 (Aug. 24, 2016). In addition, the language relating to home detention was amended to reflect that although electronic monitoring may be an appropriate means of surveillance, its use is not mandatory.

We should remain hopeful that these proposed amendments will be passed, as they represent a significant improvement for first offenders and defendants at the lower ranges of the sentencing guidelines.