U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases Two New Reports: Life Sentences in the Federal System & Older Offenders in the Federal System

The Federal Docket

July 26, 2022

This month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission released two new reports regarding federal prison inmates, including a report about life sentences and another regarding older offenders.

The Commission’s report on life sentences made several findings based on data regarding inmates sentenced to life or who received “de facto” life sentences. The data shows:
– Between 2016 and 2021, 709 offenders were sentenced to life in prison, 0.2% of the total federal offender population
– Almost half of inmates sentenced to life were convicted of murder
– Almost half of inmates sentenced to life were found to have possessed a weapon in connection with their offense or were convicted under 18 USC 924(c)
– Almost one third of inmates sentenced to life received an aggravating role enhancement under the guidelines
– 11.8% of inmates with life sentences qualified as repeat and dangerous sex offenders
– 75% of inmates sentenced to life went to trial
– There were 799 offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment, about 0.2% of the federal offender population
– Half of offenders sentenced to de facto life imprisonment were convicted of sexual crimes, one third were found to have possessed a weapon or were convicted under 924(c), 15% received an aggravating role enhancement, and almost 40% qualified a repeated and dangerous sex offenders
– Almost 40% of offenders sentenced to de facto life sentences went to trial

Click here to read the Commission’s full report on Life Sentences in the Federal System.

The Commission’s report on older offenders, defined as offenders over the age of 50 when they were sentenced, made several findings. Among those:
– Older offenders had significantly higher rates for committing fraud or sex offenders compared to younger offenders
– The rate of offenders committing sex offenses increased as the age of the offender increased
– About 40% of older offenders had a physical disability prior to the arrest that led to their conviction
– About a third of older offenders had used drugs or misused prescription drugs in the year before their arrest
– Older offenders have less extensive criminal histories than younger offenders, and a little more than half are in Criminal History Category I
– While 80% of older offenders were sentenced to prison, they were more likely to receive fines or alternatives to incarceration than younger offenders
– Nearly 40% of offenders sentenced at age 70 or older received a sentence exceeding their life expectancy, which was much higher than the 7% of offenders aged 65 through 69 who received such a sentence
– Roughly half older offenders received a sentence below their applicable Guidelines range, and the changes of receiving a variance increases with an offender’s age at sentencing
– The recidivism rate among older offenders is less than half of the rate for younger offenders

Click here to read the Commission’s full report on Older Offenders.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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