Acknowledging the rising costs of incarceration and the overcapacity of prisons, the U.S. Sentencing Commission announced on January 9, 2014 that it is seeking comment on proposed amendments to the Guidelines that would reduce drug trafficking sentences.

The proposal reduces sentences by lowering by two levels the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types in guideline §2D1.1 , which governs drug trafficking cases.  According to the Commission, analysis indicates that such a change in the guidelines would result in a reduction of approximately 11 months for those drug trafficking offenders who would benefit, resulting in a reduction in the federal prison population of approximately 6,550 inmates by the fifth year of the change.

With this reduction, the sentencing guideline penalties for drug traffickers would remain consistent with pertinent drug trafficking statutes, including existing 5 and 10 year statutory mandatory minimum penalties, by structuring the Drug Quantity Table based on levels 24 and 30 (which correspond to a guideline range of 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively), rather than the existing levels of 26 and 32 (which correspond to 63 to 78 months and 121 to 151 months, respectively).

This reduction in sentences is a modest, but important step forward in addressing the issue of over-incarceration, prison overpopulation, and the burgeoning federal prison budget.  If anything, the Commission’s announcement signals to the other branches of government that addressing this country’s prison problems should be a priority.  The announcement should further energize the ‘fair sentencing in drug offenses’ movements already taking place in Congress and the Department of Justice.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is already considering two bills  which would reduce sentences in drug offenses.  S. 618 would allow federal courts to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum if that lowered sentence would otherwise be consistent with the purposes of sentencing in § 3553(a).  S. 1410 would reduce some of the drug-related mandatory minimum sentences.  And the Attorney General has recently directed U.S. attorneys to seek reduced sentences in current, pending drug cases.

As was rightfully noted by Commission Chairperson Judge Patti B. Saris, “The real solution rests with Congress, and we continue to support efforts there to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, consistent with our recent report finding that mandatory minimum penalties are often too severe and sweep too broadly in the drug context, often capturing lower-level players.”

Here’s to hoping these positive developments continue; and political leaders continue to show courage in the face of what is often an unpopular issue in our often hyper-partisan political discourse.

This post is authored by Ferrari & Associates, P.C., a law firm specializing in federal criminal defense matters. Feel free to contact us at (202) 280-6370 or info@ferrariassociatespc.com.