Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Federal Sentencing News

There's a big new study of federal sentencing AND the federal government has begun reviewing the sentences of people serving time for crack cocaine offenses.


Yesterday the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress a huge (645 pages!) assessing the impact of statutory minimum mandatory sentences. Here are a few excerpts from the press release:

"While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country. The Commission continues to believe that a strong and effective guideline system best serves the purposes of sentencing established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.”
. . .
The Commission also addresses the overcrowding in the federal Bureau of Prisons, which is over-capacity by 37 percent.
. . .
The report was undertaken pursuant to a directive from Congress to examine mandatory minimum penalties, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Booker v. United States, which rendered the federal sentencing guidelines advisory.
. . .
  • More than 75 percent of those offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were convicted of a drug trafficking offense.
  • Hispanic offenders accounted for the largest group (38.3%) of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, followed by Black offenders (31.5%), White offenders (27.4%), and Other Race offenders (2.7%).
  • Almost half (46.7%) of all offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty were relieved from the application of such penalty at sentencing for assisting the government, qualifying for "safety valve" relief, or both.
  • Black offenders received relief from a mandatory minimum penalty least often (in 34.9% of their cases), compared to White (46.5%), Hispanic (55.7%) and Other Race (58.9%) offenders. In particular, Black offenders qualified for relief under the safety valve at the lowest rate of any other racial group (11.1%), compared to White (26.7%), Hispanic (42.8%) and Other Race (36.6%), either because of their criminal history or the involvement of a dangerous weapon in connection with the offense.
  • Receiving relief from a mandatory minimum penalty made a significant difference in the sentence ultimately imposed. . . .
The report is here. The executive summary is here.

Crack Sentences

Crack Cocaine Case Review May Free Inmates, All Things Considered, NPR, Nov. 1, 2011.

Across the country on Tuesday, federal judges began reviewing the prison sentences of thousands of men and women jailed on crack cocaine charges. Many inmates could be released or see their sentences sharply reduced.

Congress voted last year to ease federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. But a decision this summer to revisit old drug cases has sparked new controversy.

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