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Feds vote to reduce drug sentences

On April 10, 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to amend the federal sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug charges. Read the press release here. In general, the amendment would work a two level reduction in current offense levels based on the amount of the particular drug involved.

The federal sentencing guidelines have long used drug amounts to establish a base offense level for drug crimes involving distribution, conspiracy, cultivation or manufacture. These base offense levels can be raised or lowered further depending on whether certain aggravating or mitigating factors exist in a particular drug case.

Over the years the guidelines were amended many times, adding additional aggravating and mitigating factors to consider in addition to the drug amounts involved. Generally these amendments dealt with the accused's role in the offense and whether or not firearms or threats of violence were present.

As a result, over the years the sentencing guidelines themselves became more disconnected from Congressionally mandated mandatory minimum sentences in federal drug cases which are themselves triggered by drug quantities. The recently proposed amendments seek to bring the sentencing guidelines back into balance with other mandatory drug sentencing laws.

These proposed amendments are estimated to affect 70% of federal drug trafficking cases, decreasing the average sentence by 11 months or 17%. These amendments will go to Congress by May 1, 2014. If Congress does not act to disapprove them, they will go into effect on November 1, 2014.

A second good piece of news in the District of Oregon is that the U.S. Attorney's Office here in Portland has now taken the position that despite the fact these amendments have not yet been approved and enacted into law, their office is not opposing defense requests to honor the two level reduction in cases now pending in the District of Oregon. If you or someone you know are facing drug charges in Oregon call Kohlmetz, Steen and Hanrahan, P.C. and ask to speak to one of our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys.

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