When the First Step Act was signed into law by the President of the United States, the White House issued a statement that framed the purpose of the criminal justice reforms enacted into law. The White House stated, “The First Step Act will help prepare inmates to successfully rejoin society and enact commonsense sentencing reforms to make our justice system faired for all Americans.” Our first post examined the improvements to federal prison conditions. This next post will review changes to minimum sentencing guidelines.
U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Explained
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines (“guidelines”) are rules that federal judges must follow when they sentence an individual to prison following a criminal conviction for a federal offense. The guidelines themselves are a uniform sentencing policy for individuals convicted of felonies and serious misdemeanors in the U.S. federal court system and apply to all individuals in the United States, no matter if they are convicted in Alaska or Georgia.
The guidelines are used to determine sentences, following a criminal conviction, after a plea is entered or a determination of guilt is made in a jury or bench trial. Federal judges weigh two main considerations when setting prison time, the conduct of the convicted person during the offense and the criminal history of the convicted person.
A convicted person sentenced to prison serves a predefined term set by Congress, not the judge presiding over the case. Certain drug offenses are penalized with long sentences. Because the use of the guidelines to determine sentence is mandatory, the convicted person may be sentenced to many years in federal prison for minor offenses like simple marijuana or crack-cocaine possession. The First Step Act seeks to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenders, making many inmates eligible for early release or cutting prison time for certain non-violent drug offenses.
Ending the Sentencing Disparity for Crack-Cocaine Convictions
A consequence of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was the creation of a disparity in sentencing for individuals convicted of drug offenses involving crack-cocaine. Convictions for possession of crack-cocaine were punished more severely than convictions for possession of powdered cocaine. Individuals convicted of simple possession of crack-cocaine faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
For decades, opponents of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act challenged the disparity. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, opponents argued, incarcerated more African-Americans than any other racial group. Furthermore, there is no real difference between crack-cocaine and cocaine, as both drugs are cocaine and are highly addictive.
The First Step Act ends this disparity. Individuals in Georgia convicted of simple-possession of crack-cocaine will no longer face a five-year minimum sentence penalty. The law will also apply to already incarcerated persons. An inmate may apply for early release if he or she is serving time for a crack-cocaine conviction between 1986 and 2010 under the new law.
Charged With a Federal Crime in North Georgia? A Lavonia Criminal Defense Lawyer can Help
Georgia federal crimes are charged as either misdemeanor or felony offenses. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum jail sentence of one year. Felony convictions carry prison sentences of up to life in prison. An experienced Lavonia criminal defense lawyer is able to navigate the complex criminal laws and sentencing guidelines to minimize prison time or penalties following a criminal conviction. Begin immediate legal representation by hiring the Lavonia criminal defense lawyers. Request a free confidential appointment at (706) 356-0518 or online today.