Friday, January 17, 2014

U.S. Sentencing Commission Proposes 2-Level Reduction to Drug Trafficking Sentences

In keeping with the theme from 2013 that the mandatory minimum sentences impose harsher penalties than necessary to serve the purposes of sentencing, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to seek comment on a proposed amendment to lower the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table by two levels across the board.  In its news release, Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair of the Commission, stated that the proposal reflects the Commission’s “priority of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, without endangering public safety.”  Judge Saris described the proposed approach as “modest” and stated that “[t]he real solution rests with Congress.”  The Commission continues to “support efforts there to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, consistent with [the Commission’s] recent report finding that mandatory minimum penalties are often too severe and sweep too broadly in the drug context, often capturing lower-level players.

The comment period on the proposed amendments runs through mid-March 2014, and a public hearing is scheduled for March 13, 2014, in Washington, D.C.  More information is available at, including a reader-friendly version of the amendments and a link to the Federal Register notice.

Other proposed amendments address U.S.S.G. §§ 1B1.10, 2L1.1, 5D1.2, 5G1.3, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, and relevant conduct for felon in possession.  The § 2L1.1 amendment would add the following language to the description of the reckless endangerment enhancement: “guiding persons through, or abandoning persons in, dangerous terrain without adequate food, water, clothing, or protection from the elements.”

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