In an extraordinary decision with sweeping consequences to federal drug sentencing, the United States Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to make the two-point drug reduction for federal prisoners fully retroactive.
According to the Commission, the amendment will have an instruction that prohibits any person from getting released until Nov 1, 2015.
It is estimated that about 47,000 federal inmates could benefit from this change in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Judges can begin to consider motions on Nov 1, 2014.
The Department of Justice representative at the Commission made the point that swift and consistent punishment is now more important than severity of punishment.
The change means that anyone sentenced for a drug offense should now have a lower Guidelines range by two points. On average this means a sentence reduction of about 11 months. For the past few months federal defendants have already been benefiting by this change – because of the Department of Justice enacted a policy of consenting to the reductions that they knew would be inevitable.
Once huge class of drug offenders that will not be affected, however, is those who were sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentences. The lower Guidelines range that a defendant may receive as a result of this new policy will not help bring individuals below the statutory mandatory minimums. (For help with this we will have to hope that the Fairer Sentencing Act passes).
Nonetheless, this change to the Guidelines – and its retroactive application – is a significant step in the right direction. It underscores the folly of the “War on Drugs” and the foolishness of the draconian sentencing schemes put into place by election-minded politicians.
It is unclear how the new policy will got into effect and what inmates need to do to get timely relief. Most likely the Federal Defender’s office will spearhead efforts to locate the inmates who will benefit by this.