New 2024 Federal Sentencing Guidelines to Reduce Prison Times

If you have been accused or convicted of a federal crime, it might be possible to reduce your prison time under new amendments adopted in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Contact federal defense attorney Robert M. Helfend at 800-834-6434 to discuss your case.

The United States Sentencing Commission has adopted a new set of amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that stand to reduce or completely eliminate prison sentences for many who are facing charges or have been convicted of federal crimes. These guidelines went into effect on November 1, 2023.

Included in the amendments:

  • More first-time offenders will be eligible to avoid prison if convicted;
  • Offenders currently on parole or probation could see reduced sentences;
  • Offenders in poor health will be eligible for reduced sentences;
  • Courts will be allowed to consider reduced sentences for offenders who are caring for disabled family members;
  • Inmates who are serving sentences for breaking laws that have since changed will be eligible for sentence reductions or release; and
  • Inmates who were sexually assaulted or abused by correctional officers can be eligible for early release.

Many of these amendments apply retroactively. This means that if any of the situations outlined above applies to you, then you might be eligible for a reduced prison sentence, no matter when you were convicted.

However, the prison system won’t apply your sentence reduction automatically. To take advantage of these new sentencing guidelines, you’ll need to speak with a skilled federal criminal defense attorney who can take your case.

March 2024: Reuters reports on the scope of these changes

Thompson Reuters reporter Nate Raymond’s recent piece on the changes shines some light on the scope of the impact:

The panel estimates that around 18,000 inmates could earn sentence reductions after recent changes to the federal sentencing guidelines adopted by the bipartisan commission became retroactive effective Feb. 1.

The “status points” change would reduce sentences on average by 14 months, or 11.7%, for 11,495 inmates, the commission estimates. Black defendants account for 43% of the 11,495 inmates.
The 7,272 first-time offenders at issue are nearly 70% Hispanic and would receive a 15 month, or 17.6%, sentence cut on average.

You can read the entire article here, and we’ll break down the impact and the specifics of the changes below.

What is the United States Sentencing Commission?

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) is an independent agency in the federal judicial branch. Established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, it plays an important role in shaping federal sentencing policy and practices. The commission’s primary task is to develop and update the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines provide federal judges with a structured framework to consult when determining sentences for defendants convicted of federal crimes.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines serve as a comprehensive rulebook designed to bring consistency and fairness to the federal sentencing process. They outline a range of penalties appropriate for various offenses and offender characteristics, often expressed in terms of “offense levels” and “criminal history categories.” These guidelines aim to eliminate sentencing disparities and ensure that similar offenses receive comparable penalties, regardless of the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed.

While the guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, federal judges must consider them when deciding sentences. Deviations from the guidelines are allowed, but they require explicit justification.

The new amendments that the USSC adopted this year are the first changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines since 2018.

We’ll go through some of the specifics of the changes below.

Eliminating status points under certain conditions

There were two key changes to Chapter Four of the sentencing guidelines.

The first change removes the addition of “status points” under certain conditions. These are extra points usually added if the defendant committed the current offense while already under some form of criminal justice supervision like parole or probation. Under the new rule, these “status points” would only be added for those with more serious criminal histories and would not apply to those with six or fewer criminal history points.

2-Point sentence reductions for federal offenses in 2024

The second change introduces a new category of offenders who will receive a two-point reduction in their sentencing. These “zero-point offenders” have no criminal history points due to:

  • No prior convictions.
  • Prior convictions that are too old to count.
  • Prior convictions that aren’t counted for specific reasons like being from a foreign or tribal court.

To qualify for this two-level reduction, an offender must also meet certain additional criteria, such as:

  • Not having committed a terrorism-related offense.
  • No use of violence or threats in the current offense.
  • The offense did not cause death or serious injury.
  • Not a sex offense.
  • Did not cause substantial financial hardship.
  • Did not involve firearms or dangerous weapons.
  • Was not a civil rights violation.
  • Did not have an aggravating role in the crime.

If this applies to you, please contact our office directly for your free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.

Offenders in poor health will be eligible for reduced sentences

The 2024 updates clarify and expand what qualifies as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for reducing a federal sentence, also sometimes referred to as “compassionate release.” Previously, this term was ill-defined and limited in scope, making it hard for older inmates to benefit from it.

The amendments add two new categories:

  • “Medical Condition of the Defendant” – This would permit a sentence reduction if the defendant has a medical condition requiring specialized or long-term care that isn’t being adequately provided, putting them at risk of severe health deterioration or death.
  • “Infectious Disease Outbreaks” – Driven mainly by the COVID-19 pandemic, this new category would cover situations where an inmate is in a facility affected by a disease outbreak or public health emergency, faces a higher risk of severe complications or death from exposure, and this risk cannot be adequately mitigated.

By including these categories in the main text of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the amendment gives judges more concrete guidance, making it easier for aging and at-risk inmates to seek sentence modifications.

Reduced sentences for offenders caring for disabled family members

The amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines expand the scope of “family circumstances” that allow for exceptions to standard sentencing rules. There are three major changes:

  1. The first expansion pertains to caregiving for a disabled or medically incapacitated child who is 18 or older. Currently, deviations are allowed only if the incapacitated individual is a minor.
  2. The second adds a provision for defendants who are the sole caregivers for an incapacitated parent, allowing for more lenient sentencing in such cases.
  3. The third opens the door for deviations in sentencing if the defendant has unique family circumstances that are “similar in kind” to those already specified, even if they involve an extended family member or non-biological relative.

However, there’s ambiguity around the term “immediate family member,” as federal law does not have a consistent definition. It’s possible that this could apply to grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins, but it is not guaranteed.

Inmates serving sentences for laws that have since changed

The changes now permit early release for prisoners if the law has changed in a way that makes their current sentence unfair. 

Right now, U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are divided on this issue: four of them allow judges to consider changes in law that aren’t retroactive, while the remaining five do not. Instead, this new rule standardizes the practice across the country and ensures that people aren’t stuck in prison for actions that are no longer considered crimes.

Inmates who were sexually assaulted or abused

Prisoners who have been sexually assaulted or physically harmed by a correctional officer, or by any other employee or contractor working for the Bureau of Prisons, are now eligible for early release. 

It’s important to note that this rule doesn’t cover abuse or assault committed by other inmates. However, it does create a safeguard against misconduct by prison staff, a significant issue given the frequency of such abuses.

Get experienced, compassionate help for your federal case

The 2024 Federal Sentencing Guideline amendments aim to create a more equitable system, whether by allowing for early release due to changes in law, or by instituting protections for inmates who suffer abuse from prison staff. 

Navigating the federal court system is challenging. Make the journey with someone who understands both the intricacies of the law and the human stories behind the cases. With over three decades of experience in federal defense, Robert M. Helfend is that attorney. His dedicated approach addresses not just the legalities but the emotional and psychological impacts of federal charges on you and your family.

Don’t leave your future to chance. Call Robert M. Helfend today for a free consultation at 800-834-6434.

Published October 31, 2023. Updated March 8, 2024.