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New Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments go into effect tomorrow

A number of important amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines go into effect on November 1, 2011. Anyone facing sentencing in federal criminal court needs to be aware of these changes.

Perhaps the most frequently discussed amendments relate to the implementation of the  Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 ("FSA"). These amendments, made retroactive by the the U.S. Sentencing Commission, reduced penalties in crack cocaine cases. Prior to the FSA, 5 grams of crack triggered a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence and 50 grams of crack triggered a ten year minimum. These minimum sentence thresholds were raised by the FSA to 28 and 280 grams respectively. The Guidelines amendments implement the FSA by reducing the Guidelines base offense levels, reducing the marijuana equivalency of a gram of crack, capping the offense level for defendants who had a minor role in the offense, and providing for other mitigating and aggravating factors in crack cocaine cases.

Another extremely important amendment deletes language that discouraged judges from finding defendants had a minor or minimal role in the crime of conviction. This amendment should allow many defendants to more easily persuade a judge to reduce their offense level by 2 - 4 levels when arguing for a mitigating role adjustment at sentencing.

In criminal cases involving non-citizens amendments were made in illegal re-entry cases to reduce Guidelines enhancements for prior convictions where the priors were too old to be counted for criminal history calculation purposes. Additionally, the Guidelines were amended to state that a period of supervised release should ordinarily not be imposed to follow a prison sentence if the defendant is a deportable alien likely to be deported after serving the prison term.

The Sentencing commission also increased the advisory penalties in certain firearms cases that involved the international trafficking of firearms and the use of "straw purchasers" in firearms trafficking cases.

Other important amnedments were made in areas having to do with health care fraud, improper disposal of drugs, and child support cases. Federal criminal defense attorneys whose clients may be facing sentencing need to be up to date on these developments in order to most effectively represent their clients.

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