Sweeping changes to federal sentencing guidelines took effect on Wednesday, after Congress took no action to veto the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s proposed amendments, reports Bloomberg Law. The updates address a wide range of issues including sentencing reductions, criminal history points, career offender enhancements, firearms offenses, and fake pills. It’s the first time the guidelines have been revised in years, due to the Commission’s lack of a quorum between between January 2019 and August 2022. The amendments have significant implications for some defendants. Although the guidelines aren’t binding, they are the starting point for federal judges.
One amendment, which deals with the effects of a defendant’s criminal history, could significantly reduce sentences for a broad swath of defendants. The provision reduces the number of criminal history points given to a defendant already under a “criminal justice sentence,” including probation, parole, supervised release, imprisonment, work release, or escape status. The Commission estimates that more than 11,000 inmates will have a lower sentencing range under one provision, with a possible average sentence reduction of 11.7%, while more than 7,000 will be eligible for a sentencing reduction under under a second provision, with a possible average reduction of 17.6%. Another amendment updates the guidelines to conform with the First Step Act of 2018. It revises the “Compassionate Release” policy statement to reflect that a defendant, not just a warden, nay file a motion for early release. The amendment significantly expands the list of “extraordinary and compelling reasons” that may justify a sentence reduction. “The First Step Act was just that, a first step, with more to be taken ...when the law catches up to the fact that too many people are locked up for far too long for certain crimes, there’s no legitimate reason to keep some of them there just because they were sentenced before lawmakers finally did something about it,” said Philadelphia defense attorney Lisa Mathewson