Agency will retroactively apply new federal drug crime policy

One of the frustrations in preparing a strong criminal defense for federal drug charges can be the intersection between state and federal laws. If the latter are invoked, federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines may result in much higher penalties.

Some criminal justice advocates have questioned whether those guidelines offer enough flexibility to judges to tailor sentences to individual defendants’ circumstances. Other commentators have noted inconsistencies in the guidelines between the incarceration terms recommended for crack versus powder cocaine, with a potentially racially disparate impact. Congress acted in 2010 to reduce that discrepancy, but concerns over the seemingly punitive nature of federal drug sentencing guidelines have remained.

Given that political backdrop, a recent vote by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency in the judicial branch, is big news. Specifically, the agency voted to retroactively apply a recent amendment that lowers the recommended guidelines for drug trafficking convictions. For those serving such sentences — a group that could number in the tens of thousands — a request for a hearing before a federal judge may bring them a very welcome outcome.

The vote may have been motivated, in part, by the overcrowding in the federal prison system, known as the Federal Bureau of Prisons. By one report, the system is operating at almost 140 percent capacity.

As the debate over drug enforcement policy and federal sentencing guidelines continues to evolve, anyone accused of a federal drug crime would be well served to seek counsel from an attorney who focuses on federal crimes. Although similarities between state and federal offenses may exist, today’s post illustrates that there are unique features to the federal system. An attorney with experience in federal criminal defense work may be able to provide strong advocacy to an accused.

Source: Huffington Post, “United States Sentencing Commission Votes to Retroactively Apply Drug Sentencing Reductions to Tens of Thousands of People,” Anthony Papa, July 18, 2014