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U.S. Sentencing Commission Decides Adjustments for “Zero-Point Offenders” will be Applied Retroactively

In a press release from August of this year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission highlighted two crucial decisions that prioritize fairness in federal sentencing and support successful reentry to society. The introduction of retroactive sentence reductions and the review of policy priorities reflect the Commission's commitment to rectifying past disparities and ensuring just outcomes.

The commission believes these changes can shape the future of federal sentencing and reentry programs by promoting fairness, reducing recidivism, and facilitating successful reintegration into society. This blog will delve into the importance of these decisions and their potential impact on the criminal justice system.

Retroactive Sentence Reductions for Zero-Point Offenders

The first decision made by the Commission is the introduction of retroactive sentence reductions for certain incarcerated individuals. On April 27, 2023, the U.S. Sentencing Commission enacted Amendment 821 which gave a two-level reduction from the sentencing guideline range to defendants that qualified as “zero-point offenders”.

For a defendant to qualify as a zero-point offender, he or she must have zero criminal history points; not receive an adjustment under section 3A1.4 (Terrorism); not have used violence or credible threats of violence in connection with the offense; not have caused death or serious bodily injury; not be convicted of a sex offense; not have personally caused substantial financial hardship; not have possessed, received, purchased, transported, transferred, sold, or otherwise disposed of a firearm or dangerous weapon in connection with the offense; not be involved in an offense covered under section 2H1.1 (Offenses Involving Individual Rights); not have received an adjustment under section 3A1.1 (Hate Crime Motivation or Vulnerable Victim) or 3A1.5 (Serious Human Rights Offense); and not have received an adjustment under section 3B1.1 (Aggravating Role) or be involved in a criminal enterprise as defined in 21 U.S.C. 848.

The two level reduction for zero-point offenders is a huge development for federal criminal defendants as it can result in months or years off a defendant’s sentence depending on the applicable sentencing guideline range. For a while, it was unknown whether Courts would be able to apply the two level reduction retroactively for defendants that were sentenced prior to Amendment 821.

On August 24, 2023, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made it clear that defendants would be able to apply the two-level reduction retroactively meaning that defendants that have already been sentenced may be able to file a motion to reduce their sentence as early as February 1, 2024. The retroactive application of this amendment has the potential to lower sentencing ranges for eligible individuals, resulting in average sentence reductions of 11.7% for those affected by Part A and 17.6% for those affected by Part B.

This move acknowledges the need for fair and just sentencing practices and recognizes that individuals deserve an opportunity to benefit from changes in guidelines that could result in reduced sentences. By providing retroactive relief, the Commission aims to rectify past instances where individuals may have received sentences that are disproportionate to their offenses. This decision aligns with the broader push for criminal justice reform and serves as an important step toward addressing systemic inequities.

Policy Priorities: Addressing Acquitted Conduct and Bureau of Prisons Practices

The second decision centers on the commission's adoption of policy priorities. These priorities include reviewing and potentially amending how the guidelines treat acquitted conduct for sentencing purposes and assessing the effectiveness of certain Bureau of Prisons practices in meeting the goals of sentencing.

The treatment of acquitted conduct has been a topic of debate and concern within the criminal justice system. Critics argue that allowing acquitted conduct to factor into sentencing decisions contradicts the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." The Commission's decision to review and potentially amend this aspect of the guidelines demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that sentencing decisions are based solely on proven guilt.

Additionally, by assessing the Bureau of Prisons’ practices, the commission aims to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of correctional facilities in promoting successful reentry. This evaluation recognizes the importance of providing individuals with the necessary resources, programs, and support during their incarceration to increase their chances of reintegrating into society successfully.

Call Hubbs Law for all Federal Criminal Defense Cases

If you know someone that has previously been sentenced that may qualify as a “Zero-Point Offender”, give Hubbs Law a call. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, our attorneys may be able to file a motion to reduce your loved one’s sentence based on the recent change in law.

Hubbs Law handles all types of federal criminal defense cases in the state of Florida. For federal criminal defense cases, the first consultation is free. Give our office a call today to get qualified legal representation.

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