There has been much discussion lately regarding the upcoming November 1, 2023, effective date of Amendment 821 to the Sentencing Guidelines. While this amendment is not yet effective because it remains with Congress for a 180-day review period ending November 1, 2023, if Congress fails to act to disapprove the amendment by that date it will become effective.
It’s expected that Amendment 821 will become effective, and it will give District Court Judges authority to reduce sentences for incarcerated individuals, beginning February 1, 2024. However, the potential benefit of Amendment 821 will not be applicable to all incarcerated individuals. The Sentencing Commission limited the scope of this amendment, and those who don’t meet the requirements will be unable to pursue a reduction in their sentences.
So what exactly will Amendment 821 do? First, it will limit the overall criminal history impact of points for committing an offense while imprisoned or on probation, parole, supervised release, work release, or escape status under §4A1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission estimates that 11,495 currently incarcerated individuals will have a lower guideline range as a result. The most recent statistics from the Bureau of Prisons show 158,542 current federal inmates, meaning that less than 10% of those currently incarcerated will qualify for relief under this portion of Amendment 821. For those who stand to benefit from this section of Amendment 821, the Sentencing Commission estimates that the new guideline range would result in an average sentence reduction of 14 months, or 11.7% of a given offender’s sentence.
Amendment 821 will also create a new Adjustment for Certain Zero-Point Offenders under §4C1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, it provides a decrease of 2 levels from the offense level determined from Chapter Two and Chapter Three of the Sentencing Guidelines. These chapters cover the offense conduct and any applicable adjustments, respectively. But this decrease will only apply to defendants with no criminal history points under Chapter Four, Part A of the Sentencing Guidelines, and whose current offense does not involve specified aggravating factors. The Sentencing Commission estimates that 7,272 currently incarcerated individuals will have a lower guideline range as a result of this portion of the amendment, equating to less than 5% of all current federal inmates. However, for those who qualify for relief under this portion of Amendment 821, the Sentencing Commission estimates an average sentence reduction of 15 months, or 17.6% of a given offender’s sentence of imprisonment.
Based on the figures above, it is apparent that only a small population of current BOP inmates will qualify for relief when Amendment 821 takes effect. Still, this move by the Sentencing Commission is a positive step in addressing what are, at least arguably, sometimes excessive sentences for persons convicted of certain federal crimes. While time will tell whether the Sentencing Commission acts to provide relief to a broader group of federal inmates, federal inmates and their families may be able to be reunited sooner as a result of Amendment 821 taking effect in a few months.
As with any proceeding in Federal Court, having an experienced attorney to provide advice and guidance is invaluable. Because of the complexity of the Sentencing Guidelines, and Amendment 821’s application to a relatively small number of federal inmates, a federal inmate or family member should consult with an attorney to determine whether or not Amendment 821 will apply.
However, it is also important to keep in mind that just because someone is eligible for a reduced sentence does not mean one will be granted. Amendment 821 explicitly states that a Court may reduce a term of imprisonment, not that a Court shall. Therefore, in addition to the complexity of navigating a potential sentence reduction, it’s important to have an attorney who can persuasively present your case to a Judge for consideration.
If you or a family member are charged with or have been convicted of a crime in Federal Court, contact the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower for assistance. Our federal practice spans both the Northen and Southern Districts of Indiana, and our experienced attorneys will guide you through your case and fight for the best possible result for you.