Federal Drug Sentencing Reform is Here

On November 1, 2014, the "Minus Two Amendment" will become part of this country's sentencing law. This long-overdue reform of harsh federal sentencing laws for drug cases, will substantially shorten the guideline ranges for prison sentences for most drug defendants. New Hampshire Criminal defense lawyers who frequently defend clients in the United States District Court for New Hampshire, like Richard Guerriero and Ted Lothstein, can use this Amendment to help their clients get a shorter sentence in federal court.

Background: The Advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing in federal court is much more complicated than in State court, where there are no sentencing guidelines (in essence, no standardized tables telling the Judge what she should do or what other judges are doing in similar cases). Click here to learn more about sentencing in federal court, how the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines work in general, and how Attorneys Ted Lothstein and Richard Guerriero make the guidelines work for their clients.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines in Drug Cases

In cases where defendant is charged with distributing, manufacturing, or possessing illegal drugs, the advisory guideline sentencing range is derived, for the most part, from the overall drug weight involved, and the defendant’s criminal history. From the drug weight and other circumstances, the Court calculates an “offense level.” The drug weight includes not only the indicted conduct, but “related conduct” – other sales of that particular drug that the government can prove defendant's involvement in.

Next, the Court makes upward and downward adjustments of offense level based on various facts and circumstances of the particular case. For example, use of a firearm pumps up the offense level, while pleading guilty (“acceptance of responsibility”) drops the offense level by 2 or 3 levels (3 only if the prosecutor agrees). From the criminal history, the Court calculates a criminal history level.

Pressure to Plead Guilty

Many people in federal court charged with drug distribution end up pleading guilty, because the prosecutor will agree to a two or three-level reduction in offense level for “acceptance of responsibility”, which reduces the sentencing range quite substantially.

The Minus Two Amendment

In January, 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the base offense level for all drug cases by two levels, and made this amendment effective November 1, 2014. This means that unless there is a mandatory minimum sentence (which serves as an absolute floor), everyone sentenced after November 1, 2014, regardless of personal circumstances, will get a shorter sentence than they would have prior to the passage of the Minus Two Amendment.

Retroactivity of the Minus Two Amendment

The United States Attorney's Office for New Hampshire decided that they would not oppose application of the Minus Two Amendment to criminal defendants sentenced earlier than November 1, 2014. Thus, a number of defendants, including clients represented by Ted Lothstein and Richard Guerriero, received a much shorter sentence than would have otherwise received under the guidelines that existed at the time that the drug crimes were committed.

On July 28, 2014, the Sentencing Commission voted to make the Minus Two Amendment retroactive to most federal prisoners, including those sentenced in years passed. This is a tremendous reform that will eventually cause the early release of tens of thousands of prisoners. Petitions for Sentence Reduction can be filed on or after November 1, 2014. However, no one will be released prior to November 1, 2015. If you have a friend or loved one languishing in a federal prison who could potentially obtain a sentence reduction and gain early release through the Minus Two Amendment, then you should contact the original attorney who handled the case, or contact the lawyers of Lothstein Guerriero, PLLC, for a free consultation.