Since 1987, the United States Sentencing Commission has issued sentencing guidelines that federal courts use as a reference when sentencing federal criminal defendants. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual establishes sentencing ranges by quantifying offense characteristics and an individual’s criminal history through a point system.
In short, once the judge determines the number of points to assign to the offense (known as an “offense level”), the judge then couples those points with the number of points for a defendant’s criminal history to produce a specific punishment range. The more criminal history a person has and/or the more serious the offense, the higher the punishment range becomes. On the other hand, the Guidelines Manual produces a lower punishment range for people with less-serious offenses and/or lower criminal scores.
Courts are not bound by the guidelines, but they are required by statute to consider them in conjunction with various other factors, including the offender’s personal history and characteristics and the nature and circumstances of the offense when determining a sentence.
Amendments to the Guidelines Manual
On August 24, 2023, after many years of collecting and analyzing data, the United States Sentencing Commission voted for amendments to be incorporated in the upcoming Guidelines Manual. The amendments include two major sentencing reforms: one amendment will reduce the offense level for people with no criminal history points (also known as “Zero Point Offenders”), and the other amendment will limit the impact of “status points” (criminal history points added for people who commit offenses while under a criminal justice sentence).
The amendments will go into effect on November 1, 2023, absent any Congressional disapproval.
Potential Impact of the Amendments
These historic reforms will not only potentially affect certain defendants who are pending sentencing, but they will also allow retroactive implementation of the amendments, which will benefit certain people who are currently serving federal sentences.
Beginning February 1, 2024, currently incarcerated individuals could be eligible for sentence reductions based upon certain criteria. The Commission estimates nearly 20,000 inmates can benefit from the retroactive application of the amendments, resulting in an average sentence reduction of 17.6 percent for “Zero-Point Offenders” and an average sentence reduction of 11.7 percent for people whose sentencing range included “Status Point” enhancements.
Federal Matters Require Legal Assistance
Federal sentencing is a highly complex area of law that routinely changes through policy reform and appellate decisions. If you have been arrested or indicted on any federal charge, you should immediately consult with and retain a federal criminal defense attorney. Our team at Scott H. Palmer, P.C., is comprised of skilled, experienced advocates who are willing to help and committed to pursuing an optimal outcome.
Our federal criminal defense team has over fifty years of combined legal experience and is led by board-certified criminal defense attorney Scott Palmer. In addition to the decades of quality experience we have, we also utilize the unique skill set of federal criminal defense attorney Russell Turkel, whose twenty-year experience with the federal courts in the Eastern District of Texas (during which time he served as a Federal Sentencing Guideline Specialist and Supervisory United States Probation Officer) makes him an invaluable asset to our team.
If you are looking for legal representation in Dallas, please contact us at (214) 891-3382 today.