Amendment 821 Who Qualifies?

We get a lot of questions about who qualifies for Amendment 821.

The changes made by the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) in late 2023 pertains only to federal prison inmates. So it only affects persons who are currently incarcerated in a federal prison. It has no effect on inmates who are incarcerated in a state prison.

The amendment pertains to individuals lacking any criminal history points, (see more on the point system below) encompassing:

  1. Those persons without previous convictions and
  2. Those with prior convictions that are excluded due to not falling within the specified time limits outlined in subsections (d) and (e) of §4A1 (Annotated 2023 Chapter 4).

Federal criminal sentencing in the United States employs a point system primarily through the USSG. These guidelines are only a framework for federal judges to determine sentences for individuals convicted of federal crimes.

After a person is convicted of a federal crime in the United States, the federal criminal sentencing process begins with a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI).

One a person is convicted of a federal criminal offence, a probation officer conducts a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) to gather information about the defendant’s background, criminal history, and the circumstances surrounding the offense.

United States Sentencing Guidelines

This Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) report is used to calculate the defendant’s offense level and criminal history points according to the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG). The USSG provides a framework for determining the recommended sentencing range. While federal judges consider the USSG recommendations, they have some discretion in determining the final sentence. They may depart from the guidelines based on certain factors, and they must provide reasons for any departure. The federal judge imposes the sentence, which may include imprisonment, fines, restitution, supervised release, or a combination of them. The length of imprisonment is typically stated in months.

Keep in mind:

  • Points may be added or subtracted based on various factors related to the defendant’s conduct or role in the offense.
    – For instance, a defendant might receive a reduction for accepting responsibility.
  • The defendant’s criminal history is assessed using a point system.
    – Points are assigned for previous convictions, with more serious or recent convictions resulting in higher point values.
  • The sum of points from the base offense level, specific offense characteristics, and adjustments, along with the criminal history points, determines the total offense level.
  • The total offense level and the defendant’s criminal history category together determine the recommended sentencing range on the USSG grid.
    – The sentencing range provides a range of months within which the judge can impose a sentence.

Specifically, the two (2) criminal history “status points” previously assigned to defendants for committing a new offense while under probation, parole, or supervision have been eliminated.

The United States Sentencing Commission has amended the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to eliminate the two (2) criminal history “status points” defendants received if they had committed a new offense while under probation, parole, or supervision, and to replace it with one (1) status point for defendants with seven (7) or more criminal history points. The Sentencing Commission has made this amendment retroactive, which means it can apply to individuals who have already been sentenced and who are still serving their time in prison.

The use of a point system in federal sentencing aims to promote consistency and fairness in sentencing by considering both the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. It provides a structured approach to sentencing decisions in federal courts across the United States.

It’s important to note that federal sentencing can be complex, and outcomes may vary based on the specific circumstances of each case. The goal of the sentencing process it to seek to balance the need for punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection of society.