Expansion of Compassionate Release
As we previously covered, changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for the sentencing of “Zero Point Offenders” went into effect November 1, 2023 after there was no objection from Congress. Those changes also will be applied retroactively beginning February 1, 2024. In addition to those changes, the guidelines surrounding so called “Compassionate Release” were amended to great effect. Inmates currently serving sentences in the Bureau of Prisons can now seek reductions in their sentence based on expanded “Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons” which now include inmates living in facilities affected or at risk of being affected by infectious disease, inmates who have parents or other family members who need caregivers, inmates who have been abused or sexually assaulted while in custody, inmates who have served over 10 years of an “unusually long sentence” based on subsequent changes in the law, and a catch all “other reasons” for situations that are similar in gravity to the existing reasons. This has the potential to effect thousands of inmates.
Some Inmates Now Have Avenue to Release Under New Guidelines
The change to “unusually long sentences” is crucial for older inmates and those who were previously sentenced under certain charges, such as “stacking” charges under 924(c) (which occurred when multiple violations of 18 U.S.C. 924(c) when stacked on top of each other or in other words the mandatory consecutive sentences were not merged) which the First Step Act eliminated in 2018 but also specified before that such elimination would not be retroactive. Similarly, the First Step Act changed defendants charged under so called “851 enhancement,” a recidivism statute that often double the already significant mandatory minimums in drug cases. Those have since been reduced for defendants charged with a drug offense with two prior drug offenses from mandatory life sentences (commonly referred to as the “three strikes law”) to 25 years, but again this was not to be retroactive. Or in the case of one prior drug offense, prosecutors could previously increase the mandatory minimum from 10 to 20 years (now it is only 15). This change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines now provides inmates such as these an avenue for seeking a reduction in their sentence and potentially their release from incarceration.