News Release

U.S. Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle NE
Washington, DC 20002-8002

For Immediate Release
January 13, 2010

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


WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 13, 2010) — At its January 12 public meeting, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to publish for public comment proposed guideline amendments and issues for comment on a wide range of topics that include alternatives to incarceration, the relevance of specific offender characteristics to sentencing, and penalties for hate crimes. The 60-day public comment period runs through mid-March 2010, and a public hearing on the proposed amendments is scheduled in Washington, D.C., for March 18, 2010.

Judge William K. Sessions III, the Sentencing Commission chair, said, “The series of seven regional public hearings that will conclude in Phoenix this month has given us the benefit of the knowledge and experience of all parts of the criminal justice system: judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, law enforcement officials, representatives of public interest groups, and academics. We have listened to them and have listened well. We are seeking as much input and as broad a knowledge-base as possible and are moving towards the next step in this listening process, which is the publication for comment of these proposed amendments and issues for comment.”

The Commission voted to issue for comment a proposed amendment expanding the court’s authority to impose an alternative to incarceration for drug offenders who need treatment for drug addiction and who meet certain criteria. The proposed amendment creates a new guideline that gives the court the authority to impose a sentence of probation with a requirement that the offender participate in a substance abuse treatment program. The defendant receiving such a sentence must be a willing participant in the program and must have committed the offense while addicted to a controlled substance. In addition, the offender must have committed a lower-level offense, and the offender must meet the “safety valve” criteria as specified in the sentencing guidelines.

The proposed amendment also would expand by one offense level Zones B and C in the guidelines’ sentencing table, making additional defendants eligible for the sentencing alternatives provided in the guidelines. Currently, the sentencing guidelines give the court the authority to sentence eligible defendants to community confinement, intermittent confinement, or home detention. The Commission also provided a number of issues for comment regarding alternative sentencing that includes a request for comment on defendants suffering from other conditions (e.g., mental conditions) and whether they, too, should be eligible for a treatment program as an alternative to incarceration.

The Commission issued for comment a proposed amendment responding to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The proposed amendment would broaden the sentencing guideline for offenses involving individual rights to now specifically include the new hate crime offense, which makes it unlawful to willfully cause bodily injury to a person because of the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Act also created a second new offense, relating to attacking a United States serviceman on account of his or her service, and the Commission proposed an amendment incorporating into the guidelines this new offense. The Commission also proposed an expansion of the definition of a hate crime in its penalty enhancement for hate crimes to now include victims who were targeted because of their “gender identity.”

The Commission also is seeking public comment on the extent to which specific offender characteristics should be relevant at sentencing. In particular, the Commission asks for comment on five particular offender characteristics: age; mental and emotional condition; physical condition, including drug dependence; lack of guidance as a youth; and military, civic, charitable, or public service, employment-related contributions, and prior good works.

Other proposed guideline amendments refer to guideline issues that include the calculation of criminal history points; the procedure to follow when arriving at a sentence, a departure, or a variance; and defacing a paleontological resource on federal land.

The full text of the proposed changes to the sentencing guidelines and issues for comment will soon be available on the Commission’s web site at

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 structure the courts’ sentencing discretion to help ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.