Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the U.S. Sentencing Commission on March 13, 2014, to endorse a proposed change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that would reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious drug offenders. The Judicial Conference Criminal Law Committee supports this change.
The Commission’s proposed guideline amendment would lower by two levels the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes.
“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges,” Holder said, “would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system. And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”
In his testimony Holder also endorsed evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism, and S. 1410, sentencing reform legislation that contains policies supported by the Judicial Conference. The Attorney General also noted that the Department of Justice has concerns with the version of S. 1675, the "Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act," that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 6.
According to the Commission, the changes would reduce the average sentence by 11 months, and impact nearly 70 percent of all drug trafficking offenders. Holder noted that the reductions would keep the guidelines consistent with current statutory minimums—while “continuing to ensure tough penalties for violent criminals, career criminals, or those who used weapons when committing drug crimes.”
The Commission is not expected to vote on the proposed amendments until April, but until then the Justice Department will direct prosecutors not to object if defendants in court seek to have the newly proposed guidelines applied to them during sentencing.