The Federal Docket

The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2024 Proposed Amendments to the Guidelines

Late last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission delivered its annual proposed amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Accordingly, we’ve broken down the most significant changes, including a new prohibition on increasing a defendant’s sentence based on acquitted conduct, an amendment reinforcing the availability of intended loss and unlawful gain as measures for calculating a defendant’s loss amount, clarifying amendments regarding certain firearm enhancements, and a new downward departure for youthful offenders.

GUEST BLOG: Breaking Down the US Sentencing Commission’s Proposed Guidelines Amendments for 2024

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

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.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Makes Guidelines Amendments Retroactive

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.”

Dubin v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court held that a healthcare fraud defendant’s use of patient information to fraudulently bill Medicaid did not constitute aggravated identity theft under 18 USC 1028A. Under 1028A, which adds a consecutive 2-year sentence when a defendant uses or possesses another person’s means of identification during another offense, the government must show that the defendant’s use or possession of another’s identification “is at the crux” of the underlying offense. The Court concluded that 1028A penalizes “identity theft,” and it is not sufficient that another person’s identifying information was merely involved in or used in an offense without showing more.

Lora v. United States (June 2023)

At issue was whether the sentencing court erred in holding that it 924(c) deprived it of discretion to run Lora’s two sentences concurrently for drug trafficking and violating 924(j). In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that 924(j) and 924(c) set forth different offenses with different sentencing provisions. Since courts otherwise have discretion to run sentences concurrently or consecutively, the sentencing court erred in finding that it was bound by 924(c) in imposing a sentence for a violation of 924(j).

Sentencing Commission Considers “Retroactivity” of Proposed Guidelines Amendments

Yesterday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a memorandum regarding the amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and whether two amendments should apply retroactively– 1) the amendment that reduces the potential criminal history points assessed for defendants who commit their offense while under another sentence, and 2) the amendment providing a two-level downward adjustment for defendants with zero criminal history points.

In its conclusion, the Commission estimates that 11,49 offenders in BOP custody would have faced a lower sentencing range under the new amendment reducing the potential criminal history points for defendants who committed their offense while under another sentence. The average sentence reduction, based on those potential lower Guidelines ranges, would be 11.7, and 2,000 inmates would be eligible for release by November 1, 2023, when the amendments are slated to go into effect. Additionally, the Commission estimates that 7,272 inmates in BOP custody would have a lower Guidelines range if re-sentenced under the amendment providing a 2-level downward departure for having zero criminal history points, with an average reduction of 17.6%. An estimated 1,200 offenders would be eligible for release by November 1, 2023 if the amendment is made retroactive.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases 2022 Federal Sentencing Statistics

Last month, the Sentencing Commission released its annual report examining federal sentencing statistics across each judicial district and appellate circuit from October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022. The report breaks down sentencing trends by reference to the type of crime and the type of drug in drug cases, comparing post-plea sentences to post-trial sentences, examining incarceration rates for offenders eligible for non-prison sentences, measuring sentence length by type of crime, comparing the frequency of downward variances compared to within-Guidelines sentences, and other metrics.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Announces Proposed Guidelines Amendments

For the first time in years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is proposing and adopting amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The proposed amendments are sweeping, making significant changes to Guidelines provisions governing compassionate release and sentence reductions, reduced penalties for first offenders, career offender designations, firearm offenses, and more. The Commission noted that other important issues, such as considering acquitted conduct for sentencing purposes, would be taken up next year.

BOP Proposes Big Changes to Inmate Financial Responsibility Program

Earlier this year, at the behest of the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons announced that it would implement changes to the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program–the system through which the government can access an inmate’s money to pay off the inmate’s fines or restitution obligations. The changes come after some organizations criticized how some inmates are able to amass large sums of money in their prison accounts while allegedly shirking their obligations to pay fines and restitution, though other advocates claim the BOP’s new changes would hurt poor inmates.
The new proposals, outlined in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program in the Federal Register, would eliminate the rule requiring that inmate accounts always have a minimum balance ($75), which exists so inmates can pay for phone calls with family members. Another new proposal would require that half of the money earned by inmates working prison jobs would go to fine and restitution obligations.

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