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"Significant" changes for drug sentences effective November 1st

Drug-related sentences have been controversial for much of the last few decades. The war on drugs and disparities in sentencing between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine has led to long and vocal protests.

The rising cost of incarceration of the large numbers of drug offenders has also caused problems for many states and the federal government. Warehousing thousands of non-violent offenders for minor drug crimes does not seem to have reduced the "drug problem" but it has created a significant funding problem for the prison system they have generated.

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) is the federal agency that develops the sentencing guidelines that federal judges use when determining the proper sentence for offenders.

This year, the USSC purposed amendments for the sentencing guidelines that would reduce the guideline levels for many drug charges. Congress is permitted to intervene when these proposals are made, but this year they have taken no action, so the amended guidelines become effective November 1, 2014.

For those now awaiting sentencing, the guidelines will be used. The USSC also made them retroactive, so offenders sentenced under the prior guidelines can discuss with their attorneys to determine if they may be eligible for a reduction in their sentence under the new guidelines.

The USSC estimated that more than 46,000 federal prisoners may be eligible for sentence reductions, and that future prison population could be reduced by 6,500 prisoners in the next five year.

The sentencing guidelines are complex and how they apply to an individual's specific circumstance is also complex, so the assistance of an attorney familiar with federal sentencing can help in determining eligibility and the potential reduction in sentence.

USSC.gov, "COMMENT OF HONORABLE PATTI B. SARIS, CHAIR, U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION, ON AMENDMENT REDUCING DRUG GUIDELINES BECOMING EFFECTIVE TOMORROW," October 31, 2014

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