April 15, 2016
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U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION APPROVES SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO THE FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― (April 15, 2016) The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission (“Commission”) voted unanimously to amend the federal sentencing guidelines, including significant changes pertaining to immigration policy, compassionate release and animal fighting.
Based on the Commission’s data and public comment, the Commission voted to amend the federal sentencing guidelines for illegal reentry. The promulgated amendment modifies the existing guideline by (1) eliminating the “categorical approach,” which has been a source of widespread complaints by judges, the Department of Justice, and others; and (2) recalibrating the guideline to account for prior criminal conduct in a more proportionate manner. The newly adopted amendment adds a new tiered enhancement specifically aimed at criminal conduct occurring after a defendant reentered the country illegally and also adds an enhancement to account for the number of times a defendant has been convicted of illegal reentry. The current base offense level for illegal reentry offenders will remain the same.
Chief Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission said, “The Commission was concerned by evidence that 48% of illegally returning offenders were convicted of at least one criminal offense, other than illegal reentry, after their first deportation. Overall, immigrants convicted of illegal reentry have reentered the country an average of 3.2 times. However, the base offense level will remain the same as we also understand that there are many low level offenders who return to the United States for reasons related to family or work as well as reasons relating to conditions in their home country.”
The Commission also amended the federal sentencing guidelines for alien smugglers, enhancing penalties for those who smuggle vulnerable unaccompanied minors. Today’s amendment also makes clear that a four level sentencing enhancement applies for any smuggling case involving sexual abuse.
Separately, in response to Congressional changes to the Animal Welfare Act, the Commission’s own research and analysis, and nearly 50,000 citizen letters, the Commissioners also voted to strengthen the federal sentencing guidelines to better reflect the cruelty and violence associated with animal fighting offenses. Specifically, the Commission voted to increase the base offense level for animal fighting offenses from a range of 6 to 12 months to a more serious range of 21 to 27 months. The amendment also establishes a new, corresponding sentencing guideline range for anyone that attends an animal fighting venture with a minor under 16 years old.
In addition, the Commission strengthened and broadened the criteria for compassionate release with several meaningful changes. Congress charged the Commission with issuing policy statements describing what should be considered extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentencing reduction. As amended, federal inmates may be eligible for compassionate release based on four categories relating to medical conditions, age, family circumstances, or other extraordinary and compelling reasons. The Commission’s action encourages the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to use its current authority if an eligible offender meets any of the circumstances defined by the Commission’s expanded criteria for compassionate release.
“The Commission was concerned about testimony and public comment documenting that the BOP has failed to use its authority to recommend compassionate release in the past. We encourage BOP to use its discretion consistent with this new policy so that eligible applications are reviewed by a trial judge,” said Saris.
In addition, the Commission voted to resolve certain circuit conflicts, in the area of child pornography, as well as to strengthen provisions pertaining to probation and supervised release. Finally, the Commission took action on necessary conforming, technical changes in response to recently enacted legislation.
The approved amendments will be submitted to Congress in the coming weeks and, absent Congressional action, will take effect on November 1, 2016. More information about the Commission’s process as well as the final versions of the adopted amendments are available on the Commission’s web site at www.ussc.gov.
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The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines provide structure for the courts’ sentencing discretion to help ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.