Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part VII: Temporary, Emergency Amendment Pursuant to Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Ed. Note: On November 1, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2010 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect, along with a temporary, emergency amendment to implement Section 8 of the Fair Sentencing Act. On the whole, the amendments reflect a reduction in federal criminal sentences and provide the sentencing judge with additional discretion. We have been posting analyses of some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2010 amendments is available here.

In this post in August, we summarized the impact of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduces the disparity between criminal sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 and eliminates the mandatory minimum five-year sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. The Act also provides for higher sentencing guidelines for all drugs in some cases. This amendment brings about the changes made by the Act.

Specifically, the emergency amendment makes the following changes to the Sentencing Guidelines to implement the Fair Sentencing Act:

* The base offense levels for crack cocaine are set in the Drug Quantity Table so that the statutory minimum penalties correspond to levels 26 and 32. This change implements the Act’s application of the five-year mandatory minimum sentence to cases involving at least 28 grams of crack cocaine, compared to the prior 5 grams, and the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence to cases involving at least 280 grams of crack cocaine, compared to the prior 50 grams.

* The amendment establishes a marijuana equivalency for crack cocaine under which 1 gram of crack cocaine is equivalent to 3,571 grams of marijuana and, in the commentary to §2D1.1, deletes the special rules in Note 10(D) for cases involving crack cocaine and one or more other controlled substances.

* §2D1.1 is amended to add a sentence at the end of subsection (a)(5), which is often referred to as the “mitigating role cap”. The new provision provides that if the offense level otherwise resulting from subsection (a)(5) is greater than level 32, and the defendant receives the 4-level “minimal participant” reduction in subsection (a) of §3B1.2, the base offense level will be decreased to level 32. Because a 4-level reduction is uncommon, this new provision will have limited impact.

* §2D1.1 is amended to create new specific offense characteristics providing an enhancement of 2 levels if the defendant:
o Used violence, made a credible threat to use violence,or directed the use of violence;
o Bribed, or attempted to bribe, a law enforcement officer to facilitate the commission of the offense;
o Maintained a premises for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance; or o Receives an aggravating role adjustment and the offense involved any “super-aggravating” factors.

* §2D1.1 is also amended to create a new specific offense characteristic providing a 2-level downward adjustment if the defendant receives the 4-level “minimal participant” reduction and the offense involved three specified factors:
o Motivation by an intimate or familial relationship or by threats or fear to commit the offense when the defendant was otherwise unlikely to commit such an offense;
o No monetary compensation from the illegal purchase, sale, transport, or storage of controlled substances; and o Minimal knowledge of the scope and structure of the enterprise.

A reader-friendly guide to the temporary amendment is available here.

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