August 14, 2014 Articles

A Look at Retroactive Reduction of Drug-Trafficking Sentences

The amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were approved to be retroactive and will create challenges for the system when the approximately 60,000 expected sentence-reduction motions are made.

By Dillon Malar

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present two excellent articles below regarding the recent amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Our first article, by Vadim A. Glozman, discusses how the amendments are consistent with Department of Justice policy under Attorney General Eric Holder, and examines the potential impact on the sentencing courts. Dillon Malar’s article focuses on the consequences of the guidelines being applied retroactively, and touches on the logistics of how this will be accomplished. We hope you enjoy both of these excellent articles on this important subject.

In April 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made perhaps the most significant amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines since they went into effect in 1987. The USSC voted unanimously to reduce the base offense levels associated with drug quantity for all drug types by two levels. According to the commission, the changes will affect nearly 70 percent of federal drug-trafficking defendants, who account for nearly half of all federal criminal prosecutions. The changes will reduce the average sentence by 17.7 percent, from 62 months to 55 months. Unless Congress takes the unlikely step of blocking the amendment, the reduction will go into effect on November 1, 2014. In practice, the guidelines are already in effect as the Department of Justice has instructed its attorneys not to oppose application of the new guidelines.

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