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CRIMINAL DEFENSE • DISCIPLINARY INVESTIGATIONS & HEARINGS

U.S. Sentencing Commission approves retroactive reduced drug sentences

For decades, the War on Drugs and the accompanying federal sentencing guidelines have been the scourge of those charged for possession or sale of drugs. Long criticized as discriminatory in practice and overly harsh, federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes have accomplished little more than swelling an already robust prison population.

However, at a public meeting of the U.S. Sentencing Commission held on July 18, 2014, officials voted unanimously to take a step back from the misguided drug sentencing structure of the past. Pursuant to the vote, and absent any Congressional intervention, many offenders currently in prison on federal drug charges will soon be eligible for reduced sentences.

A judge must review a drug offender’s case before a reduction can be granted

Back in April, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to lower federal sentencing guidelines across the board for all drug types on an ongoing basis. But this measure was inapplicable to those who had already been sentenced for drug possession or sale.

The July 18 vote means that thousands currently behind bars in the sprawling federal prison system will likely be eligible for drug sentence reductions like those now being afforded to the newly convicted.

Reduced sentences would not take effect until Nov. 1, 2015, and each offender would have to have his or her case reviewed by a judge before receiving a reduced sentence. Judges would be looking at, among other things, whether a reduced sentence in a given case could create a public safety risk.

Congress has until November 1 of this year to block the reductions in drug sentences. But with overwhelming support so far, and a federal prison population that currently exceeds capacity by 32 percent according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it is likely that the availability of reduced sentences for many drug offenders will become a reality.

Talk to a criminal defense lawyer today about securing a sentence reduction

The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that 46,290 inmates will be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence under the new guidelines. For qualifying offenders, the average sentence reduction would be 18.8 percent, or 25 months.

Many officials are looking at the budgetary bottom line in their support of the drug sentence reduction measure. But for someone behind bars for a nonviolent drug crime, getting more than two years of his or her life back is a much more personal reason to rejoice.

While the reduced sentences will not take effect until 2015, courts could begin considering petitions for drug sentence reductions as early as this November. If someone you love is serving time for a drug crime, now may be a good time to seek legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer and get a strong case prepared before a potential deluge hits the courts.

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