For Immediate Release

April 4, 2000

Contact: Michael Courlander
Public Affairs Officer
(202) 502-4597


Agency Also Increases Sentences for Methamphetamine Offenses, Identity Theft, and Phone Cloning

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2000) -- The United States Sentencing Commission today voted to adopt several amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that will significantly increase penalties for a number of serious crimes of great concern to the nation. The commissioners' swift action comes less than five months after their appointment on November 15, 1999.

Many of the newly enacted guideline provisions are in response to congressional concerns and address such serious crimes as the improper use of new technology in copyright and trademark violations, sexual offenses against children, methamphetamine trafficking, identity theft, cell phone cloning, telemarketing fraud, and firearms offenses. "We set as our number one priority addressing the backlog of legislative directives that had accumulated during the 13-month absence of commissioners," said Judge Diana E. Murphy, chair of the Sentencing Commission. "I am very pleased with how quickly and thoughtfully we have been able to respond." Judge Murphy also indicated that the newly constituted Sentencing Commission hopes to proactively address further sentencing guideline changes in the upcoming years to insure that the federal criminal justice system continues to operate in a fair and efficient manner.

Congress recognized how new technology - in particular, the Internet - has been used to violate copyright and trademark laws and responded by passing the No Electronic Theft Act. The Commission implemented the provision of that Act by substantially increasing penalties for copyright and trademark violations.

Examples of offense behavior the Commission was concerned about include -

  • the offender who uploads to an illegal web site thousands of pirated copies of video games, thereby making the games instantly available for downloading by others throughout the world;
  • the offender who manufactures counterfeit handbags and uses the proceeds to finance organized criminal activities; and
  • the offender who palms off imitation baby formula as the genuine formula, thereby putting babies' health at risk.

In response to these and other cases, the Commission specifically targeted for harsher sentences offenders who manufacture, import, or upload counterfeit or pirated items because these defendants cause the most harm to copyright and trademark owners. The new guideline provides increased sentences based upon the quantity of counterfeit infringing items and, in most cases, the retail value of the legitimate infringed-upon item.

The copyright and trademark industries have seen remarkable economic growth but are threatened by rampant piracy and counterfeiting. A study by one trade association estimated that illegal piracy of business software costs that segment of the industry $11.4 billion each year. The Commission expects the increased penalties to provide greater deterrence against such crimes.

The Commission also increased penalties in a number of guidelines in response to the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998. Commission actions included increasing penalties for distributing pornography to minors and for using the Internet to lure minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. The Commission was particularly concerned about sexual predators who "troll" the Internet (using its anonymity and large number of "chat rooms" intended for children) to contact and sexually exploit children.

Consistent with the Methamphetamine Trafficking Enhancement Act of 1998, the Commission voted to increase penalties for methamphetamine trafficking. In recent years, law enforcement has seen a marked increase in methamphetamine, also known by the street names of "speed" or "crank." Traditionally associated with motorcycle gangs such as the Pagans, the use of this illegal drug in recent years has spread far beyond the confines of membership in these groups. Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant which can be smoked, snorted, injected, or eaten. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, methamphetamine use results in "euphoria, increased alertness, increased energy, and tremors," and large doses frequently result in irritability, aggression, anxiety, delusions, auditory hallucinations, and paranoia. Drug Czar, General McCaffrey, has indicated that methamphetamines have a serious potential nationally to become the next large-scale drug epidemic.

In response to the Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act of 1998, the Commission voted to increase penalties for criminals who steal another person's identity and then use that stolen identity to commit additional crimes, such as obtaining fraudulent loans or credit cards. In so doing, the Commission recognized that the individual whose identity is stolen is also a victim of the fraud, just as is the bank or credit card company. In the same amendment, the Commission also increased penalties for the cloning of wireless telephones in response to the Wireless Telephone Protection Act of 1998.

The Commission responded to the Telemarketing Fraud Prevention Act of 1997 by increasing penalties for criminal telemarketing schemes. These fraudulent schemes often operate out of massive "boiler rooms" or over the Internet and target one of our most vulnerable segments of society, the elderly.

The Commission also conformed the guidelines to reflect newly enacted legislation that increased statutory penalties for offenders convicted of firearms offenses.

Except for the amendment implementing the NET Act, the amendments will take effect November 1, 2000, unless Congress disapproves them during a six-month review period. The NET Act amendment will take effect May 1 due to special congressional authority.

The U.S. 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 structure the courts' sentencing discretion to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. Since nationwide implementation in January 1989, federal judges have sentenced approximately 500,000 defendants under the guidelines.