Amendment 821, a chance for freedom from federal prison

The approval of Amendment 821 has brought about changes in how federal judges determine sentences for criminals with past offenses. These changes may have an impact on your loved one. Stay informed about the new developments in the federal criminal justice system.

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) recently passed Amendment 821, a game-changing update to federal sentencing policy. The amendment which took effect on November 1, 2023, introduces evidence-based revisions to sentencing guidelines for criminal history points. And here’s the kicker – it nay can even be applied retroactively (that started February 1, 2024. The Commission indicates that the average sentence of an eligible inmate may drop from 120 to 106 months.

The goal of the reform is to make the federal criminal justice system more fair and effective. Read on to learn all about these important changes. It’s important to note that the reductions mentioned are not automatic. We believe it is best to obtain legal counsel to properly navigate the Amendment 821 process to help your incarcerated loved one seek freedom.

Federal Sentencing Process

Federal sentences in the United States Federal Court system are determined using guidelines that recommend a range of punishments. These based on a defendant’s criminal record, along with the seriousness of the crime. Federal judges can now calculate a defendant’s criminal history and offense level using a point system, helping them  to decide the appropriate sentencing range.

The purpose of this amendment is to reduce sentences for individuals with little criminal history, who have not committed violent crimes or harmed vulnerable victims.

This amendment focuses on a two part point system:

  1. Status Points: If a defendant committed the crime while already serving a criminal justice sentence, like probation or parole, they may face additional points.
  2. Zero Criminal History Points: Even if a defendant has no prior offenses, they may still receive prison time as a first-time offender.

The First Section – Part A

The Commission examined how points are assigned to someone’s criminal history and found that it sometimes made things seem worse than they actually were. These new rules were created to fix that issue. Effective November 1, 2023 under the new rules:

  1. Status points will only apply if the defendant has at least one criminal history point under §4A1.1 (PDF) before the status points are added. This excludes low-level offenders.
  2. There is a cap of 3 status points, preventing excessive increases for multiple prior sentences.
  3. Offenders who receive status points will be eligible for a downward departure if the status points over-represent their criminal history.

These new rules are meant to make things more fair and accurate when it comes to a person’s criminal history.

The Second Section – Part B

Effective February 1, 2024, the new Chapter Four guideline at §4C1.1  reduces sentences by 2 levels for defendants with:

  • No criminal history points under Chapter Four.
  • No aggravating factors like violence, vulnerable victims, etc.

Compassionate Release Expanded

The new law also expands the criteria that federal judges can consider for “compassionate release.” This program allows inmates to seek early release from prison under “extraordinary and compelling circumstances.”

There is also a presumption against imprisonment for qualifying offenders in lower sentencing ranges. Before this, compassionate release was limited to certain cases like terminal illness. Now judges may now also consider these factors:

  • The inmate’s age at the time of offense and sentencing.
  • How close the inmate is to their release date.
  • The inmate’s post-sentencing rehabilitation efforts.

The Amendment permits prisoners to request early release for an expanded range of qualifying reasons, thereby increasing the chances of obtaining approval.

Engaging an experienced post-conviction attorney to handle your loved one’s case can significantly boost your likelihood of success with an Amendment 821 petition.

The Commission voted to extend the rule’s applicability to past cases, allowing present inmates to request sentence reductions from the courts under these new guidelines.

The Commission believes this action has the potential to assist over 10,000 inmates currently serving time in federal prisons.

Although the courts retain authority to determine sentence reductions, the retroactive application of Amendment 821 could significantly reduce prison terms for thousands of individuals

Not all incarcerated federal prisons will be getting sentencing relief.

Basically, an in incarcerated person cannot benefit from Amendment 821 if they:

  • Had any prior criminal history points.
  • Used violence or credible threats of violence in connection with the offense.
  • Caused death or serious bodily injury because of the offense.
  • Committed a sex offense, a civil rights offense, or a hate crime.
  • Personally caused substantial financial hardship.
  • Received a terrorism adjustment.
  • Possessed, received, purchased, transported, transferred, sold, or disposed of a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induced another person to) in connection with the offense.
  • Engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise.

There are also a couple of other stipulations related to specific factors.

There Is Hope For Freedom

If your loved one is currently in federal prison and you believe there is hope for their release,  the post-conviction attorneys at Blizzard and Zimmerman can help! We excel in representing clients in federal criminal appeals in resentencing mitigation after a conviction.

Our experienced attorneys specialize in navigating the complexities of Amendment 821 for incarcerated federal prisoners, offering support to incarcerated individuals and their families. We provide assistance with resentencing mitigation, federal criminal appeals, and compassionate release petitions.

With a focus on fairness and effectiveness, our legal services strive to make a positive impact on the lives of those affected by federal sentencing changes.

Having our skilled attorneys working on your loved one’s can greatly increase your chances of success with an Amendment 821 petition.