U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Allow Retroactive Sentence Reductions

Judge Ruling Out a Decision in Court - retroactive sentence reductions concept

On August 24, 2023, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to allow delayed retroactive application of Amendment 821, which authorized a two-point reduction under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for people with no significant criminal history. This retroactive sentence reduction means some incarcerated people will be eligible for reduced sentences.

In announcing the retroactive sentence reductions brought about by Amendment 821, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves, Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, stated that the changes “reflect evidence-based policy determinations that apply with equal force to previously sentenced individuals. Applying these changes retroactively will increase fairness in sentencing. At the same time, the 3-month delay will help ensure that individuals released based on our decision today receive the benefit of reentry programs and transitional services essential to support their successful reentry to society, which at the same time promotes public safety.”

Amendment 821 becomes effective on February 1, 2024, ensuring that people who receive reduced sentences will be able to participate in reentry programs and transitional services that will increase the likelihood of successful reentry into society.

Retroactive Sentence Reductions

Most amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply prospectively to people who have not yet been sentenced. Amendment 821 is unique in creating retroactive sentence reductions for people who were already sentenced.

Before announcing the retroactive sentencing reductions, the U.S. Sentencing Commission conducted an Impact Analysis study, which revealed that the retroactive sentence reduction would have a meaningful impact on currently incarcerated individuals.

  • By making the status point guideline change retroactive, an estimated 11,495 people would have a lower guideline range. Of these individuals, 43% are Black, 87% are U.S. Citizens, and 93% are male. Two thousand ninety people would be eligible for immediate release.
  • The retroactive zero-point offender guideline means an estimated 7,272 people will have a lower guideline range. Of those individuals, almost 10% are Black, approximately 70% are Hispanic, 46% are U.S. Citizens, and 84% are male. One thousand one hundred ninety eight people would be eligible for immediate release.

Understanding Amendment 821

Amendment 821 makes two important changes to the effect of a defendant’s criminal history under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Eliminating the Use of Status Points

“Status Points” will no longer apply to people with six or fewer criminal history points. Previously, defendants received additional criminal history points if they committed an offense while under a criminal justice sentence, such as probation, parole, supervised release, imprisonment, work release, or escape status.

Retroactive Sentence Reductions

Amendment 821 also creates a new Chapter Four guideline that calls for a two-level decrease for offenders who did not receive any criminal history points under Chapter Four and whose offense did not involve certain proscribed criteria. The Amendment defines “zero-point offenders” as offenders with no criminal history points, including:

  1. Offenders with no prior convictions;
  2. Offenders whose prior convictions are not counted because they were not within the time limits set forth in subsection (d) and (e) of U.S.S.G. §4A1.2; and
  3. Offenders who have prior convictions that are not used in computing their criminal history category for reasons other than their “staleness” (e.g., sentences resulting from foreign or tribal court convictions, minor misdemeanor convictions, or infractions).

Contact Hope Lefeber for Aggressive Defense Against Federal Criminal Charges

Amendment 821 represents a significant step towards making sentencing in the federal criminal justice system more fair and efficient. As a federal criminal defense attorney, Hope Lefeber actively monitors updates to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and studies how the changes will impact her clients.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime in federal court, or if you have questions about federal sentencing or how the new amendments will impact you or a loved one, contact the Law Office of Hope Lefeber today by calling (610) 668-7927.