In a decision that is going to mean early freedom for tens of thousands of federal prisoners, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has voted to retroactively grant reduced sentences for those convicted of federal drug trafficking crimes.
While releases will be granted no earlier than November 2015, petitions can be submitted as early as November 2014. Our Birminghamcriminal defense lawyers are here to guide prisoners and their families through the process.
While sentence reductions extended to some 50,000 prisoners will average about two years, the exact amount of reduction will depend heavily on the facts of the case. That means legal analysis prior to submission of a petition to the court will be important in maximizing benefits of each case.
While this measure will not directly impact state-level offenders, it’s indicative of a growing recognition that minimum mandatory sentencing is inherently unfair. Legislators across the country have pushed for sentence and charge reduction initiatives, which could benefit non-federal offenders as well. It’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine whether you may be eligible to avail yourself of certain benefits.
There is reason to believe a fair number of offenders seeking reductions will be granted respite, based on the outcome of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment, which was applied retroactively beginning in the spring of 2008. The goal of reform was to reduce penalties for those convicted of crimes involving the possession and sale of crack-cocaine, to bring them more in line with penalties for those convicted of similar crimes involving powder cocaine.
Within three years, nearly 65 percent of those were approved, while 35 percent were denied. Of those denied, roughly 77 percent were filed by offenders who weren’t eligible under the stated terms of the change. Only 6 percent were denied on the basis of a threat to public safety.
In Alabama, state lawmakers last year approved new sentencing guidelines that allow for reduced sentences for a wide range of nonviolent drug and theft offenders. While those guidelines had been available since 2006, lawmakers made the changes “presumptive,” meaning judges have to offer a compelling reason, such as an aggravating circumstance, if they wish to deviate from guidelines to impose a stiffer penalty.
While fairness is an inherent part of the argument with these changes, one of the greater considerations is money. Specifically, jails and prisons are exceedingly overcrowded. While the federal system is 33 percent over capacity, the Alabama system is roughly 50 percent over capacity. There simply isn’t enough funding to keep up with the demand for housing, especially if prosecutors insist on the continued pursuit of the failed “War on Drugs.”
But it’s not solely drug offenders who can benefit. In particular, first time, non-violent felony offenders in Alabama increasingly have the option of requesting placement in one of the state’s many diversion programs, which have gained popularity in recent years. Offenders who successfully complete these programs may walk away with a clean criminal record.