The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday a proposal currently being examined by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that will pave the way for certain individuals who have been charged with nonviolent drug offenses to be eligible for reduced sentences. The news is the latest in a series of moves by the Justice Department to adjust the federal guidelines for drug offense sentencing and aims to lessen overlong sentences, prison overcrowding, and an overhaul of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Attorney General Eric Holder (pictured) used today’s announcement to urge the Sentencing Commission to consider the proposal. The Commission, which sets the guidelines for sentences given to federal criminal defendants, approved a proposal back in April to lower the base offenses connected to amount drugs the defendants were caught with as a result of trafficking charges.
In July, the Commission will vote on the proposal, which will lower base offenses by two levels and reduce sentences by 23 months on average. An added bonus of the proposal is that defendants already in prison will have the changes to their sentences applied retroactively.
From Attorney General Holder:
“Under the department’s proposal, if your offense was nonviolent, did not involve a weapon, and you do not have a significant criminal history, then you would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence in accordance with the new rules approved by the Commission in April,” Holder said. “Not everyone in prison for a drug-related offense would be eligible nor would everyone who is eligible be guaranteed a reduced sentence. But this proposal strikes the best balance between protecting public safety and addressing the overcrowding of our prison system that has been exacerbated by unnecessarily long sentences.”
During a formal hearing also held on Tuesday at the Commission, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Yates and Director Charles Samuel testified on behalf of the Justice Department.
From the DOJ’s press release:
“We believe that the federal drug sentencing structure in place before the amendment resulted in unnecessarily long sentences for some offenders that has resulted in significant prison overcrowding, and that imprisonment terms for those sentenced pursuant to the old guideline should be moderated to the extent possible consistent with other policy considerations,” Yates said. Under the plan supported by the department, Yates added, “Retroactivity would be available to a class of non-violent offenders who have limited criminal history and did not possess or use a weapon, and thus will apply only to the category of drug offender who warrants a less severe sentence and who also poses the least risk of re-offending.”
The proposal falls under the umbrella of the DOJ’s “Smart On Crime” initiative. Visit this page to learn more.