Recent Amendments to Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Cases Federal Criminal

Sentencing guidelines for drug cases and the recent amendments. The questions is…

Who benefits from the decision of the United States Sentencing Commission reducing the guidelines retroactively for federal drug offenses?

New York City federal criminal defense attorney Hope Lefeber explains below.

On April 30, 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines that would revise the guidelines applicable to drug trafficking offenses by changing how the base offense levels in the drug quantity tables in sections 2D1.1 and 2D1.11 of the U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual (2013) incorporate the statutory mandatory minimum penalties for drug trafficking offenses (Amendment 782).

Specifically, the amendment would reduce by two levels the offense levels assigned to the quantities that trigger the statutory mandatory minimum penalties, resulting in corresponding guideline ranges that include the mandatory minimum penalties and make conforming changes to section 2D2.11.

On July 18, the Commission voted to give retroactive effect to Amendment 782 beginning on the effective date of the amendment, which will be November 1, 2014, unless Congress acts to modify or disapprove the amendment. However, pursuant to the amendment, no offender may be released pursuant to the retroactive application of the amendment until November 1, 2015 or later.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has added an additional §1B1.10 analysis pertaining to sentencing reductions under any retroactive amendment to the Guidelines in cases involving defendants who originally received downward departures from a statutory mandatory minimum term of imprisonment due to substantial assistance.

“These amendments to the sentencing guidelines will affect thousands of defendants who are presently incarcerated for federal drug offenses.” Hope Lefeber

Download the “Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines April 30th 2014” covering the sentences guidelines for drug cases.

In cases where a defendant received a downward departure from a mandatory minimum for substantial assistance, the question arose as to the correct starting point for the resentencing calculation under a retroactive amendment to the Guidelines. Some Circuits had held that the starting point should be the statutorily mandated minimum sentence.

Other Circuits, led by the Third Circuit, directed trial judges to use as the starting point for the analysis the bottom of the recalculated Guideline range of imprisonment, whether or not that bottom was below or above the otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence.

In short, the amendment now clearly directs that the starting point is the bottom of the recalculated Guideline range rather than the mandatory minimum.

Thus, in mandatory minimum substantial assistance cases, defendants who were deprived of the benefit of a retroactive comparable reduction due to bad case law in their Circuits pertaining to the starting point for the resentencing calculation, can try to seek relief as of November 1.

Ms. Lefeber explains that these amendments will affect thousands of defendants who are presently incarcerated for federal drug offenses. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has made this amendment extremely expansive in that (1) it applies retroactively; and (2) it applies to individuals who have already received a reduction below mandatory minimum sentences by reason of substantial assistance.

Hope Lefeber is a federal criminal defense attorney in New York City with over 30 years experience. She is recognized by Superlawyers and is ranked by the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers in the United States.

Ms. Lefeber’s key areas of practice include criminal defense in business and corporate fraud, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, tax fraud and other white collar crimes, conspiracy and drug offenses.

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