Sentencing Commission Issues 2020 Report and Sourcebook
Sentencing Commission Publishes Reports
The United States Sentencing Commission has Published their new Sourcebook and Annual Report. (click for PDF). It gives an important glimpse as to the data surrounding crime, federal courts and Federal Sentencing.
What is the United States Sentencing Commission?
The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch of government. Its principal purposes are:
(1) to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts, including guidelines to be consulted regarding the appropriate form and severity of punishment for offenders convicted of federal crimes;
(2) to advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective and efficient crime policy; and
(3) to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues, serving as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.
Selected Data findings from the Year in Review
The courts submitted approximately 300,000 documents reporting 64,565 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases to the Commission. This represents a decrease of 11,973 cases from fiscal year 2019 and reflects the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work of the courts.
The race of federal offenders remained largely unchanged from prior years. In fiscal year 2020, 58.1 percent of all offenders were Hispanic, 19.3 percent were White, 19.1 percent were Black, and 3.4 percent were of another race. Non-U.S. citizens accounted for 46.2 percent of all offenders, an increase of 1.6 percentage points from the prior year.
Immigration cases accounted for the largest single group of offenses in fiscal year 2020, comprising 41.1 percent of all reported cases, an increase from the 38.4 percent of the cases reported in the prior year. Cases involving drugs, firearms, and fraud were the next most common types of offenses after immigration cases. Together these four types of offenses accounted for 86.4 percent of all cases reported to the Commission in fiscal year 2020.
Among drug cases, offenses involving methamphetamine were most common, accounting for 45.7 percent of all drug cases.
The average length of imprisonment in methamphetamine cases was unchanged from fiscal year 2019 at 95 months. However, the average sentence imposed decreased across the other major drug types: in crack cocaine cases (from 78 to 74 months), powder cocaine cases (from 70 to 66 months), heroin cases (from 70 to 66 months), and marijuana cases (from 31 to 29 months).
Two-thirds (66.9%) of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, compared to 65.7 percent of drug offenders in fiscal year 2019.
Almost three-quarters (73.7%) of all offenders received sentences under the Guidelines Manual, in that the sentence was within the applicable guideline range or was outside the applicable guideline range and the court cited a departure reason from the Guidelines Manual. Half (50.4%) of all sentences were within the guideline range, compared to 51.4 percent in fiscal year 2019
Other important findings regarding policy in the annual report:
As noted earlier, throughout FY 2020, the Commission operated with only two voting commissioners—Chief Judge Danny C. Reeves and Senior Judge Charles R. Breyer. As a result, the Commission lacked the minimum four affirmative votes required to promulgate amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. The Commission, however, continued to work on several important policy priorities while it awaited appointment of new voting commissioners.
One of the Commission’s ongoing priorities has been to examine the overall structure and operation of the guidelines post-United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court decision that rendered the guidelines advisory. In FY 2018, the Commission reported persistent demographic disparities in sentencing (Demographic Differences in Sentencing: An Update to the 2012 Booker Report (November 2017)). In FY 2019, the Commission reported increasing sentencing disparities among federal judges who sit within the same courthouses in 30 major cities across the country (Intra-City Differences in Federal Sentencing Practices (January 2019)). And in FY 2020, the Commission reported increasing geographical disparities in sentencing across the 94 federal judicial districts (Inter-District Differences in Federal Sentencing Practices (January 2020)).
In FY 2021, the Commission issued another report in this series examining the influence of the guideline range on average sentences imposed (The Influence of the Guidelines on Federal Sentencing (December 2020)). Using sentencing data collected from 2005 to 2017, the analysis compares the average guideline minimum with the average sentence imposed under all guidelines in the aggregate and six individual guidelines across three time periods. This important report found several overarching trends indicating that, while varying substantially depending on the type of offense, the guidelines generally continue to have a substantial impact on sentences imposed after Booker.The Commission expects to update and keep current the information contained in these reports in FY 2022 and beyond to inform Congress and the public, as well as its own policymaking.