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Federal Sentencing Bill Proposes Drastic Changes to Sentencing for Drug Offenses


The First Step Act—Congress’ first attempt at prison sentencing reform for federal crimes—has passed the House, and the Senate is now being called upon to hold a vote by the end of December. The bill has been five years in the making, and has drawn criticism from some of the most conservative lawmakers, who claim that it would simply slash sentences for some of the worst drug traffickers and sex offenders. To others, the bill is the best chance at “fixing the federal prison system” by lowering prison populations and helping those struggling with drug addiction and/or poverty to start over again.

What Does It Do?

The bill is ambitious, and does a lot, from adjusting mandatory minimum sentences for a number of crimes, to proposing a number of programs to reduce federal recidivism and prepare inmates for a successful reintroduction into society. Specifically, it clarifies that:

  • Enhanced mandatory minimum sentencing for the use of a firearm during a drug crime or crime of violence is limited to offenders who have previously been convicted and served a sentence for a similar offense (versus first-time offenders);
  • Mandatory minimum penalties are reduced to permit judicial discretion;
  • The three-strike rule is reduced from life imprisonment to 25 years (similarly, the 20-year minimum sentence is reduced to 15 years) and applies to all offenders convicted of a serious drug or violent felony;
  • Judges can apply the “safety valve” (i.e. imposing a judgment below a mandatory minimum sentence) when a defendant fully cooperates with law enforcement and has not been involved in a number of serious offenses, such as threatening to or using firearms or violence, causing death or serious bodily injury, etc.;
  • Anyone sentenced for crimes related to crack cocaine offenses prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to have their case reviewed in order to bring their sentence in line with (more lenient) sentences imposed after the Act was passed;
  • A data-driven system to determine which prisoners are safe for parole or release will be implemented;
  • Prisoners can participate in recidivism programs to earn credits to reduce their sentence; and
  • Employment and training opportunities will be provided for inmates; amongst a number of other reforms, such as a statutory maximum for Fentanyl, parole for juvenile offenders, and a “Compassionate Release Initiative.”

According to experts, the biggest impact would be on the thousands of federal prisoners convicted before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, allowing for those sentenced before important, substantial sentencing reforms to petition for release. This would have a significant impact on an overwhelming issue of racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Contact Our West Palm Beach Federal Offense Attorneys

If you are facing federal criminal charge such as a drug charge in federal court, you will more likely be involved in a more challenging and complex legal proceeding. You should obtain the assistance of a criminal defense attorney who specifically has experience working on federal cases. Contact our Florida federal criminal defense attorneys at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. today to find out more.




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