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November 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Data Show Majority of All Crack Cocaine Resentencing Motions Granted

A preliminary report released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) shows that since March 2007 federal judges have granted 10,815 or 71.5 percent of the 15,126 applications for sentence reductions as allowed by the retroactive application of crack cocaine sentencing guideline amendments. On average, the result was a reduction of 24 months, or 17 percent, in an offender’s sentence.

In 65 percent of the 4,311 denied motions, the courts determined that the offender was ineligible for a reduced sentence due to one of several factors, such as a mandatory minimum sentence that controlled the sentence, the offender’s status as a career offender, or because the quantity of crack cocaine involved in the case was very large. In another 11 percent of the reasons for denials, either the offense did not involve crack cocaine or the sentence was determined by a non-drug guideline. In 14.5 percent of the cases, the court denied the motion because the offender had benefited from a departure or variance at the time he or she was sentenced, to protect the public, because of other § 3553(a) sentencing factors, or because of post-sentencing or post-conviction conduct. A reason for denial could not be determined from the court documents in 9.5 percent of the cases where the motion was denied.

The USSC released its preliminary crack cocaine retroactivity data report in October 2008, with updated information on court decisions considering motions to reduce the length of imprisonment for certain offenders convicted prior to November 1, 2007 of offenses involving crack cocaine. The data was collected from March 3 through August 26, 2008.

In May 2007, the USSC submitted to Congress an amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, resulting in a downward adjustment by two base offense levels for crack cocaine offenses. The amendment became effective November 1, 2007. In December 2007, the USSC made the decision to apply those guidelines retroactively, effective March 3, 2008. As a result, it was estimated that more than 20,000 inmates would be eligible for shorter prison sentences. The October report provides information on all cases reported to the USSC in which the court considered a motion to reduce a sentence under 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2) for an offender convicted of an offense involving crack cocaine.

The majority of granted motions, 80.2 percent, originated with defendants. None were submitted by the Bureau of Prisons, and 19.8 percent came from the courts. Of the offenders who were considered for sentence reduction, 69.1 percent previously received sentences within the relevant guideline range, 30.6 percent received sentences below the guideline range, and the rest were above the range. Offenders whose motions to receive a reduction in sentence were granted, were serving an average sentence of 136 months, which subsequently was reduced by an average of 24 months.

The USSC preliminary report cautions about drawing conclusions based on the data, “as the judicial districts are employing various methods to prioritize the review of these motions. . . . The data the Commission has received to date concerning cases in which the motion for a sentence reduction was denied may not be representative of the decisions that ultimately may be made in any one district or the nation as a whole.”

The report is available on-line at www.ussc.gov/USSC_Crack_Cocaine_Retroactivity_Data_Report_17_September_08.pdf.pdf.