December 14, 2023
U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION SEEKS COMMENT ON PROPOSALS
ADDRESSING THE IMPACT OF ACQUITTED CONDUCT, YOUTHFUL CONVICTIONS, AND OTHER ISSUES
WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Today the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to seek comment on several proposals that would, among other things, limit the federal courts’ consideration of acquitted conduct and youthful convictions under the federal sentencing guidelines.
The bipartisan Commission voted today to publish for public comment several options to address the use of acquitted conduct for sentencing purposes. The proposed amendment comes after the Commission took up the issue during last year’s abbreviated amendment cycle but determined that more time and public comment was needed before promulgating amendments. The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied several petitions for writs of certiorari related to the use of acquitted conduct. In issuing the denials, four Justices indicated their support for the denial, in part, to give the Commission time to address the issue.
U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves, Chair of the Commission, said, “When the Supreme Court tells us to address an issue, the Commission listens. From continuing the use of acquitted conduct to restricting (or even eliminating) its use in sentencing, all options are on the table. We need the input of stakeholders—from seasoned federal judges to the individuals who have been directly impacted by sentencing and incarceration—to settle on the best course of action.” (Access the Comment Portal.)
Prompted by evolving brain development research, the Commission also proposed changes that would limit the impact of prior juvenile convictions on criminal history scoring and expand consideration of an individual’s youthful age at sentencing. Judge Reeves said, “Congress directed the Commission to draft fair and equitable guidelines that reflect advancements in knowledge of human behavior as it relates to the criminal justice process. We look forward to the public’s input on how to ensure that federal sentencing reflects all of the relevant data and research around age, crime, and justice.”
The Commission also proposed an amendment that would simplify the current “three-step process” followed by judges at sentencing by effectively removing step two—consideration of departures under the Guidelines Manual. The proposal would also more closely align Commission guidance regarding consideration of individual characteristics with the factors set forth by Congress in section 3553(a).
“The Commission has reported on the impact of the Booker decision on multiple occasions. Today’s proposed amendment acts on these observations and, after nearly 20 years, would update the Guidelines Manual to more fully reflect the advisory sentencing guidelines system established by the Supreme Court in Booker,” said Judge Reeves.
As part of this year’s policy work, the Commission has also worked to compile and disseminate information on court-sponsored programs relating to diversion, alternatives-to-incarceration, and reentry. While the Commission did not propose amendments on this priority, the Commission published program documentation and background information on its website. The Commission has also released its first podcast episode in a miniseries highlighting the various problem-solving courts around the country. It is the Commission’s intent to continue to develop and update these resources throughout the amendment year.
Several other technical or clarifying amendments were proposed today, including amendments addressing the guidelines commentary, new laws, and several circuit conflicts.
Today’s proposals are all drawn from the final policy priorities the Commission unanimously approved in August 2023. The proposed amendments and issues for comment will be subject to a public comment period running through February 22, 2024. A public hearing on the proposed amendments will be scheduled in Washington, D.C., at a later date.
The Commission will soon post information about public hearings as well as a data presentation on today’s Proposed Youthful Individuals Amendment. Official text of proposed amendments and issues for comment will also be published in a forthcoming edition of the Federal Register.
“We look forward to receiving your comments,” Judge Reeves said.
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