May 10, 2024

New Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Can You Get a Sentence Reduction?

Criminal Defense, Post-Conviction

Published by Nicholas T Hart

In August 2023, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made significant changes to the federal sentencing guidelines that could result in shorter prison sentences for thousands of individuals. If you have a loved one who is currently incarcerated or awaiting sentencing, it’s crucial to understand these revisions and how they might impact their case.

If you believe your loved one may qualify for a sentence reduction under the updated guidelines, seek legal assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney at Harrison & Hart. We can review your loved one’s case, determine their eligibility, and guide you through the process of applying for a reduced sentence.

Understand the Key Changes

The most notable update relates to how a defendant’s criminal history is factored into their sentence. Previously, individuals with no prior criminal records (known as “zero-point offenders”) were treated the same as those with criminal histories when calculating their sentencing range.

However, under the new federal guidelines, zero-point offenders whose offenses did not involve aggravating factors like violence or firearms will have their offense levels reduced by two levels. This change could potentially reduce sentences by months or even years for some offenders.

When Will the Changes Take Effect?

The new amendments went into effect on November 1, 2023, for those awaiting sentencing. For individuals already incarcerated, the changes applied retroactively starting on February 1, 2024. The three-month delay was intended to allow those released early to receive necessary reentry programs and transitional services, promoting their successful reintegration into society and enhancing public safety.

Who Can Seek a Reduced Sentence?

The amendments aim to increase fairness and reduce overly harsh sentences, particularly for non-violent, first-time offenders. Those convicted of lower-level drug offenses or white-collar crimes are among those who could benefit the most from these changes.

However, not everyone will qualify for a sentence reduction. To be eligible, defendants must meet specific criteria, including:

  • Having no prior criminal history points
  • Not having committed offenses involving terrorism, hate crimes, sex offenses, civil rights violations, or continuing criminal enterprises
  • Not having caused death, serious injury, or substantial financial hardship in connection with the offense
  • Not having possessed or used firearms or other dangerous weapons during the offense

If your loved one meets these qualifications, they may be eligible for a reduced sentence under the new guidelines.

How Will These Changes Help?

The updates to the federal sentencing guidelines don’t just impact future cases – they also provide a path for thousands of currently incarcerated individuals to potentially get their sentences reduced retroactively.

However, implementing retroactive sentence reductions is a major undertaking. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recognized that the courts and prison system would need adequate time to review petitions and prepare for the safe release and reentry of those receiving reduced sentences.

That’s why they built in a 3-month delay, setting the effective date for retroactive application as February 1, 2024. This will allow all parties involved – judges, lawyers, prison officials, and more – to get ready for the changes.

How Many People Will Be Affected?

So how many people might benefit from getting their sentences reduced retroactively? According to the Commission’s estimates from July 2023:

  • 11,495 currently incarcerated individuals could have their sentencing range lowered under the “status points” provisions, resulting in an average 11.7% reduction in their sentence lengths.
  • 7,272 currently incarcerated individuals are expected to be eligible for reduced sentencing ranges as “zero-point offenders” with no prior criminal histories. For them, the average sentence reduction could be a substantial 17.6%.

These numbers represent thousands of people, many of them likely non-violent offenders, who may get a second chance thanks to the revised guidelines promoting more proportional sentencing.

The Commission carefully analyzed this issue from all angles before voting to apply the changes retroactively. They reviewed data, heard testimony from experts and stakeholders across the legal system, and ultimately concluded that reducing excessive sentences would increase fairness while maintaining public safety.

Get Help from a Criminal Defense Attorney with Harrison & Hart Today

At Harrison & Hart LLC, our team of dedicated attorneys is well-versed in the intricacies of the federal sentencing guidelines and committed to fighting for the rights of our clients and their families. We understand the profound impact these changes can have on your loved one’s future, and we’re here to help you navigate this opportunity.

Contact us today at (505) 295-3261 for a free consultation and let us explore the possibilities of a reduced sentence for your loved one under the new federal sentencing guidelines.

The Right Firm For Your Case

We’re ready to help you get your life back on track.

From our office in Albuquerque, Harrison & Hart, LLC serves clients throughout New Mexico. We are focused on getting you the best outcome possible in the harshest of situations.

Group image of the staff of Harrison & Hart

Submit your contact information and we will be in touch shortly.