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Zachary Newland of Newland Legal provides a detailed breakdown of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s proposed amendments to the Guidelines, which will be incorporated into the 2024 Guidelines Manual.
GUEST BLOG: Breaking Down the Recent Amendments as Incorporated in the 2023 Federal Sentencing Guidelines
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Zachary Newland of Newland Legal provides the Federal Docket with a detailed breakdown of the most important amendments to the Guidelines, as incorporated in the 2023 Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
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Last week, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to make a pair of Guidelines amendments retroactive, meaning they could apply to thousands of federal inmates serving time. Under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2),”in the case of defendant who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission…upon motion of the defendant …the court may reduce the term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent they are applicable ….”
In a 4-3 vote, the Commission voted to make the “status points” amendment retroactive. Whereas a defendant previously received 2 points for committing an offense while under a term of supervision (probation, supervised release), the new Guidelines amendment will reduce the number of points or eliminates them completely for such offenders. By making this amendment retroactive to offenders who previously received the 2-point enhancement, almost 11,500 inmates are eligible for a potential sentence reduction. The average inmate would have had a lower Guidelines range by 14 months under the new Guidelines.
In another 4-3 vote, the Commission voted to make the “zero point offender” amendment retroactive. Under the new Guidelines, offenders will receive a 2-point reduction to their offense level if they have no criminal history and their offense does not present certain aggravating factors. Over 7,272 inmates would have been eligible for this reduction, and the average inmate would have had a lower Guidelines range by 15 months under the new Guidelines.
The retroactive amendments go into effect on February 1, 2024, though inmates can file motions for sentence reductions immediately.
In other Commission-related news, the Commission voted to consider additional policies such as “possible amendments to the Guidelines Manuel to prohibit the use of acquitted conduct in applying the guidelines.”
Recent Supreme Court Opinions
In a matter of first impression for the Supreme Court, a 7-2 majority of the Court held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act only applies in the civil context and that there is no statutory immunity for foreign sovereigns in the criminal context. The Court remanded to the Second Circuit, however, to determine whether a bank partially owned by the Republic of Turkey could still claim immunity under common law against claims of violating anti-Iranian sanctions.
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In a 6-3 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations began running on a death row inmate’s claim of insufficient procedural due process when his prior “state litigation ended.” In this case, that was not when the trial court denied his motion for DNA testing of the murder weapon, but rather when the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.
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In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were not violated by the trial court’s admission of his co-defendant’s confession, during which his co-defendant stated that the defendant committed the murder, because the defendant’s name had been redacted from the confession. Even though the defendant was logically the only person the co-defendant’s confession could be referring to, the Supreme Court held it was not “directly accusatory,” or at least not directly enough, to warrant reversal.
Recent Circuit Court Opinions
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The First Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor. The Court held that the trial court erred in excluding certain expert testimony from a clinical psychologist. While the trial court had allowed the witness to testify as an expert in the field of internet sexual behaviors, it erred in prohibiting the witness from opining on the defendant’s internet chats and whether chats like his met the pattern shown by child predators who communicate with minors online.
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The First Circuit vacated the sentence of a former police officer convicted of RICO conspiracy. The Court held that the district court erred in considering the PSR’s mere mentioning of the defendant’s prior administrative complaints, without more to substantiate them, as a basis for an upwards variance from the Guidelines.
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The Fourth Circuit vacated a defendant’s convictions for committing a crime of violence while failing to register as a sex offender. The Government dismissed other charges against the defendant and allowed him to plead guilty to one charge conditionally so he could appeal whether his underlying kidnapping offense was a “crime of violence,” and after an intervening opinion held that kidnapping isn’t, the Court held that the district court erred in allowing the Government to reinstate the original charges against the defendant since the Government was still bound by its prior plea agreement.
The Federal Docket
The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.