Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amended for Zero Criminal
History Point Offenders
Defendants With No Criminal History to Receive Reduction in Guideline Level Calculation
The United States Sentencing Commission recently met and made changes to the federal sentencing guidelines for the first time since 2018 with massive implications for those without a criminal record. Under the proposed amendments, which will become effective on November 1, 2023, should congress not reject them, individuals with a criminal history score of zero will receive a two-level decrease in their guideline calculation, provided the crime they committed does not disqualify them in any other enumerated ways. For example, disqualifiers include denying the reduction if a firearm was involved in their crime, their offense resulted in death or serious bodily harm, is prohibited for certain specific offenses, amongst others. This will have serious implications for individuals facing sentencing who have no criminal history, including “white-collar criminals and low-level drug dealers. The amendment also provides new commentary related to Zero-Point Offenders that advises individuals with a guideline range within Zones A or B who have not committed a serious offense should receive a presumption against imprisonment, in addition to advising courts to consider sentences short of imprisonment even if their range falls outside Zone A or B for these offenders.
Guideline Changes to be Applied Retroactively
Because the amendments will reduce the sentencing range of those when and if it is adopted in the future, the sentencing commission also promulgated that the change will apply retroactively to individuals who are currently serving a sentence in federal custody, potentially impacting thousands of inmates across the country. Starting February 1, 2024, individuals in custody who would have qualified for the reduction at the time of sentencing had the new guidelines been in place can seek to have their sentences reduced to align with the new standard. However, this does not mean that all individuals currently serving time that would have qualified will have their sentences reduced, as courts will have to take into account what sentence they were given. For example, if an individual already received a below guideline sentence, the sentencing court would not have to necessarily consider the impact of the new guideline. Nonetheless, individuals currently incarcerated should contact an attorney to check their eligibility for a reduced sentence if they believe they would have qualified for the reduction when they were sentenced had the new guidelines been in effect.