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Amendment to sentencing guidelines made retroactive

Some of our readers may have heard of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. For those who are not familiar with them, the guidelines are a set of rules concerning the uniform imposition of sentences in federal criminal cases. Judges utilize these guidelines as a benchmark in issuing sentences, though they are not binding.

Under a new amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, thousands of prisoners incarcerated on federal drug offenses may have the ability to have their sentences reduced. The amendment, which decreased the recommended sentences in drug trafficking cases, was actually passed back in April. At that time, though, it was not made retroactive. This month, the commission in charge of the guidelines voted to make the amendment retroactive, which is a great thing for many federal prisoners. 

The retroactivity opens up the possibility of sentence reduction for roughly 46,000 federal prisoners. Many of these individuals are inmates admitted as young people for non-violent crimes. Approval for sentence reduction will not be automatic-it requires the approval of a judge. Judges are given discretion as to whether an inmate will ultimately be approved for a reduction.

Inmates who are eligible for consideration under the amendment have a great opportunity, of course, and hopefully many will obtain the legal assistance they need to have a fair hearing. Anybody who is faced with criminal charges, of course, does well to work with an experienced attorney in building a strong defense. Doing so ensures that their interests will receive the advocacy they deserve. 

Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram, “New federal sentencing guidelines will be retroactive,” Bob Ray Sanders, July 29, 2014.