The United States Sentencing Commission published a fact sheet about Drug Trafficking Crimes that is important to anyone who is facing charges.
The United States Sentencing Commission
As we have previously indicated, the United States Sentencing Commission both puts forth the Federal Sentencing Guidelines as well as compiles reports on the state of crime and federal criminal cases. You can read more about that here.
The Sentencing Quick Fact Sheet for Drug Trafficking Crimes
Every so often the Sentencing Commission publishes a “Quick Fact” sheet that gives data about crimes and punishment in the federal system. The most recent quick fact sheet for Drug Trafficking Offenders has a great deal of relevant information. The most relevant findings (to me) were below. This data covers fiscal year 2020.
Most Drug Offenders Have Little or No Criminal History
A great deal of the individuals who were sentenced last year had little or no criminal history. The report indicates that 42.8 of offenders were Criminal History Category I, the lowest criminal history Category. This is reserved for individuals who have either zero or one criminal history point.
We hear this often among incarcerated persons and their loved ones. The average sentences for cocaine base (crack), powder cocaine, heroin and fentanyl are in the 60-70 month range. The average sentence length in fiscal year 2020 for Methamphetamine 95 months. The sentences can add up quickly, especially when considering drug conspiracy matters and relevant conduct.
Mandatory Minimums Play a Large Role in Federal Sentencing
Of the over 64,000 cases that were reported to the Sentencing Commission, over 66 percent of offenders were convicted of something that involved a mandatory minimum. While 56.3% of those were relieved of that penalty, less than a third of those relieved were relieved via the Safety Valve. The Safety Valve contains a rigorous set of criteria that the judge must find to be true in order to receive relief, and as of the writing of this blog, there is a split in the courts about how the safety valve is interpreted. Incarcerated persons should ask their lawyer if the safety valve is correct for them and lawyers should work with their clients to determine if they meet all the criteria.
Impact on Weapons in Sentencing
The presence of a weapon plays a large part in sentencing, especially for drug cases. The report indicates that 25.1 percent of cases were increased for possessing a weapon. The possession of a firearm is punishable in sentencing via United States Sentencing Guideline 2D1.1, which can add an additional two levels to a base offense level. This may be the case even if the government abandons any 924(c) charges that are filed as part of a plea agreement.
Federal Criminal Sentencing is one of the most important parts of the criminal process. It is an intricate entity that requires a hard look at the facts of the case. The accused person and their lawyer need to look at the facts surrounding sentencing at the beginning of the case in order to determine what decisions are appropriate.