News Release

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

For Immediate Release
March 27, 2003

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


Agency Also Announces Study of Departures from Sentencing Guidelines

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 27, 2003) — At its public meeting yesterday, the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to adopt sentencing guideline amendments that will significantly increase penalties for terrorism, oxycodone, and campaign finance offenses. In addition, the Commission announced that a comprehensive study of departures from the guidelines is underway.

“We have not yet completed our work for this amendment cycle,” said Judge Diana E. Murphy, Commission chair. “We have an ambitious agenda to complete and will be voting on additional matters in April. But I am pleased with the work that culminated in yesterday’s vote.”

The Commission voted to promulgate a multi-part terrorism amendment, responding to provisions of the USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, and the Terrorist Bombings Convention Implementation Act of 2002. The Commission addressed new offenses involving the transfer or possession of certain biological agents and toxins; increased the penalties for tampering with the public water system; and expanded the arson guideline to sanction offenses involving the destruction of a public transportation system, a state or government facility, an infrastructure facility, or a place of public use. Provisions were also added to address terrorist financing and support offenses, and offenses involving demonstrating the making or use of an explosive or weapon of mass destruction.

The Sentencing Commission also voted to increase substantially the penalties for oxycodone trafficking offenses. Oxycodone is a Schedule II narcotic prescribed for the treatment of pain. The Commission has been concerned about the increasing illicit use of oxycodone, the health and societal consequences associated with its use, and the rising number of federal cases sentenced for the drug’s trafficking. A recent increase in the diversion of this drug into the illegal marketplace has resulted in an increase in hospital admissions and deaths associated with its abuse. Said Judge Murphy, “The Commission hopes that this enhanced penalty will help deter any further increase in the abuse of this drug and serve to punish appropriately those criminals engaged in its illegal trafficking.”

In response to increases in statutory maximum penalties contained in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, the Commission created a new guideline that would cover offenses cited in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The guideline amendment addresses violations involving (1) the amount of money an individual, corporation, political action committee, or national political committee may contribute to a federal political campaign; (2) the insertion of foreign money into federal election campaigns; or (3) purposeful and detrimental misrepresentations about a candidate’s position that are made by someone who fraudulently identifies himself as working for that candidate’s campaign. The amendment makes permanent an identical temporary amendment that was passed under emergency authority in January of this year.

The Commission approved an amendment that significantly increases the penalties for drug trafficking crimes and crimes of violence in which the defendant uses body armor during the commission of the offense, in preparation for the offense, or in an attempt to avoid apprehension. The amendment increases penalties by up to 50 percent for such aggravating conduct and responds to a Congressional directive to examine penalties for body armor.

The Commission also announced that it continues to work on a study of departure issues as part of its large-scale 15 year study of the federal sentencing guidelines. The issue continues to be a priority in light of recent concerns raised by some members of Congress and the Department of Justice. Some other components of the 15 year study have already been completed, including the Commission’s report on cocaine sentencing policy and the results of its survey of federal judges on the sentencing guidelines.

The new amendments to the sentencing guidelines will be submitted to Congress by May 1, 2003, and will take effect November 1, 2003, unless Congress disapproves them during a six-month review period.

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 600,000 defendants under the guidelines.