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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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The Future of Drug Sentencing Under Amendment 821

By Spodek Law Group | October 16, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 17, 2023)

Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 05:20 pm

The Future of Drug Sentencing Under Amendment 821

Amendment 821 is a big deal for folks convicted of federal drug crimes. Passed in 2023, it lets some people in prison now get their sentences reduced starting February 2024. This article explains what Amendment 821 does and what it could mean for thousands of federal drug offenders.

What Amendment 821 Changes

Amendment 821 makes 2 main changes to how sentences get calculated:

  1. It reduces how much someone’s criminal history increases their sentence. This helps people who have long records just from minor drug charges.
  2. It gives judges more flexibility to go below the guidelines for some low-level drug crimes. Judges can now better fit the punishment to the crime.

So who benefits most? Non-violent drug offenders with short criminal histories – for example:

  • A low-level drug mule caught on their first offense
  • Someone struggling with addiction who has shoplifting charges
  • A girlfriend pressured into holding drugs for her boyfriend

Violent criminals and big drug traffickers won’t get breaks. But thousands of minor drug offenders could see their sentences cut by years.

Retroactivity – What It Means for Those In Prison Now

The Sentencing Commission says around 11,500 federal inmates could have lower guideline ranges under Amendment 821. But meeting the criteria doesn’t guarantee a lower sentence – judges will still have discretion.

For people in prison now, the process to seek a reduced sentence starts November 1, 2023 when the amendment takes effect. Inmates who qualify can file a motion for “compassionate release.” This involves:

  1. Filing a petition explaining how Amendment 821 changes their guideline range
  2. The judge reviewing their case and deciding whether to reduce the sentence
  3. If approved, getting a new release date from prison

This process takes months with the court backlog. But Amendment 821 gives inmates a chance at freedom they didn’t have before.

What It Means for Future Drug Cases

Defendants who haven’t been sentenced yet could also benefit immediately from Amendment 821. Judges will use the new rules to calculate their guidelines.

While not an overhaul of federal sentencing, Amendment 821 is an important incremental reform. For decades, minor drug offenders faced rigid, overly harsh punishments. This amendment finally gives judges more leeway to issue fair sentences.

The Road Ahead

In the short term, courts will handle an influx of sentence reduction petitions starting in November 2023. Thousands could get their sentences lowered by months or years if judges use their new discretion.

Long term, several other reforms could build on Amendment 821’s progress:

  • Congress passing broader drug sentencing reforms
  • More judicial discretion to disregard mandatory minimums
  • Alternatives to incarceration like diversion programs

While not revolutionary, Amendment 821 is an important step toward fairer federal drug sentencing. By reducing emphasis on criminal histories and giving judges more discretion, thousands of minor drug offenders may see shorter sentences.

Much broader reforms are still needed to completely overhaul the system. But after decades of harsh policies, Amendment 821 provides hope and a chance at freedom to many inmates serving unjust sentences.

Going forward, eyes will be on how judges use their new discretion. But Amendment 821 signals the tide is turning from reflexively harsh drug sentences toward more nuanced, just approaches.

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