What are the Recently Proposed Changes to the Federal Drug Trafficking Sentences?

Last week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission held a public meeting and voted to publish proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines, asking for comment on the potential reduction to drug trafficking sentences. The proposed amendments are part of their proposed guideline amendments for the 2013 – 14 amendments cycle. The bipartisan Sentencing Commission proposed to lower the base offense levels for those who commit drug trafficking violations by two levels within the drug quantity table. U.S.S.G. §2D1.1, of the federal sentencing guideline manual that currently governs drug trafficking cases. With the proposed guideline amendments, the Commission seekss to reduce the costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, while still keeping the public safe. Currently drug trafficking offenders currently make up about half of the federal prison population. According to a news release published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Commission found that “a change in the guidelines would result in a reduction of approximately 11 months for those drug trafficking offenders who would benefit, resulting in a reduction in the federal prison population of approximately 6,550 inmates by the fifth year after the change.” The Commission also calls for action from Congress to reduce mandatory minimum penalties to be consistent with the severity of the offense. My view: While the proposition is a step in the right direction by reducing the overly draconian federal drug guidelines, it does nothing to correct the statutory mandatory minimum sentences, which result in the greatest injustice. The statutory mandatory minimums are mandatory and the judges have no discretion and must impose them whether they want to or not. The guidelines are advisory, so judges use them as a guide, and usually follow them, but can grant variances from the guidelines.