Seeking Sentence Reduction Under Amendment 821 for Drug Convictions
Amendment 821 is a new law that could help people convicted of federal drug crimes get their prison sentences reduced. This amendment has been a long time coming and could really help a lot of non-violent drug offenders who got unfairly long sentences. Let’s take a look at what Amendment 821 actually does, who it could help, and how to try to get a shorter sentence under the new rules.
What Does Amendment 821 Do?
Amendment 821 makes two big changes to the sentencing guidelines for federal drug crimes:
- It reduces the impact of “status points” for someone’s criminal history when figuring out their sentence range
- It allows judges to go below the guideline range for certain non-violent drug offenders with minimal criminal histories
Reducing Status Points
Under the sentencing guidelines, a defendant’s criminal history category is a big factor in deciding their final sentence range. The more past convictions someone has, the more “status points” they get, and the higher their criminal history category goes.
Amendment 821 reduces the impact of status points so someone’s criminal history category won’t go up as fast just for having prior convictions. This could really help people who have longer criminal records only because of non-violent drug possession charges.
Going Below the Guideline Range
The other big change is Amendment 821 allows judges to give sentences below the guideline range to certain drug offenders who have minimal criminal histories and meet other criteria. This gives judges more flexibility to give shorter sentences for low-level drug crimes when appropriate.
Defendants will have to meet certain requirements, like:
- Having a minimal criminal record
- Not using violence or threats
- Playing a minor role in a drug conspiracy
Who Could Benefit from Amendment 821?
The people who stand to benefit the most from Amendment 821 are non-violent drug offenders with minimal criminal histories – especially those serving long sentences for low-level drug crimes. This includes:
- First-time offenders
- People with only minor prior records
- People serving mandatory minimums or guideline sentences for small drug amounts
- Defendants who played minor roles in drug conspiracies
Violent criminals and drug kingpins are unlikely to get any sentencing breaks under Amendment 821. But thousands of low-level drug offenders could potentially get their sentences reduced by years.
The Sentencing Commission estimates around 11,500 currently incarcerated individuals may see lower guideline ranges under Amendment 821. But meeting the requirements doesn’t automatically guarantee a shorter sentence. It will be up to judges to decide whether to actually reduce sentences for eligible defendants.
How to Get a Sentence Reduction Under Amendment 821
For people currently serving federal prison sentences, the process for seeking a sentence reduction under Amendment 821 will start on November 1, 2023. That’s when the amendment finally goes into effect, unless Congress blocks it first.
Starting November 1, defendants can file petitions and motions asking the court to reduce their sentences under the new rules. The process works like this:
- File a motion for a sentencing reduction once Amendment 821 goes into effect on November 1, 2023
- The judge reviews the motion and decides if you are eligible
- If you are eligible, the judge holds a resentencing hearing
- At the hearing, the judge decides whether to actually reduce your sentence or not
Even if you are eligible under Amendment 821, the judge still has the discretion to deny a sentence reduction or only lower your sentence by a small amount. But the amendment at least gives you a chance.
For people facing federal charges but not yet sentenced, Amendment 821 could impact the initial sentence you get. When calculating guideline ranges, judges will apply the new rules reducing status points and allowing departures for certain low-level drug crimes. This could result in a lower sentencing range right from the start.