Pending Federal Legislation: Justice Safety Valve Act

click for a free consultation

Past blogs have referenced the differences between State and Federal court but perhaps the biggest difference is the mandatory minimum sentences for certain criminal offenses.  These statutory requirements mean that an individual will serve at least the minimum required time, regardless of what their guideline range may be in the Federal system.  For example, an individual could commit a criminal offense that requires a minimum of 5 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and an additional 4 years on supervised release (much like Federal home detention, which is considered a restricted sentence), meaning an “executed” sentence of around 9 years. This same individual might have a limited criminal history or other factors (such as acceptance of responsibility point reductions or providing assistance to the government reductions) that place them in a guideline range of 63-78 months (or 5.25-6.5 years).  Under the current Federal system, a sentencing Judge is required to sentencing an individual to the mandatory minimum and then determine whether an additional sentence is appropriate without regard to the minimum.

Currently there is legislation introduced titled the Justice Safety Valve Act which would allow a sentencing Judge to give a sentence different from the mandatory minimum.  In order to deviate, a Judge must first give both the US Government and the Defendant notice and opportunity to respond.  Should the Judge proceed forward with a deviation, the Court would be required to explain, in writing, why the mandatory minimum term does not fulfill one of the purposes of punishment set by Congress in 18 USC 3553 (e.g. rehabilitation, public safety, just punishment, crime deterrence).  The US Government can appeal the Judge’s decision to disregard the mandatory minimum sentence if they so choose.

The benefits to this deviation are not new to the Federal system, but only limited to specific drug offenses.  Under 18 USC 3553(f) there exists the aptly named “Safety Valve” provision that permits a Judge to deviate from the mandatory minimum if:

  1.  The individual has, essentially, a limited criminal history
  2.  Did not use violence or possess a firearm in connection with the crime
  3.  The crime did not result in death or serious bodily injury
  4.  The individual was not the leader or organizer of the crime
  5.  At least prior to the plea and sentencing hearing, the individual has informed the Government of everything they are aware in connection to the crime (even if that is nothing additional than that already known). This deviation is incredibly beneficial for an individual charged with mandatory minimum drug offenses that start around 5 years.

While the legislation is still in the early stages, with many changes likely to come, that Congress is looking toward such reform provides more hope for those accused of a Federal offense from facing the impactful collateral consequences of a Federal conviction. If you or somebody you know has recently been convicted of a crime or has questions about the appellate process, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC.  We are available at all times by calling us at 317-870-0019 or by emailing