Drugs Minus Two

Drugs Minus Two Sentencing Reductions

Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, convictions for drug crimes can lead to long prison sentences, even for low-level, nonviolent drug possession offenses. With so many people incarcerated on simple drug charges, long prison sentences did nothing to curb drug use, and resulted in mass incarceration, breaking up families, and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Changes to the federal sentencing guidelines have been slow, but one of the most important changes has come from Amendment 782. This amendment, also known as “drugs minus two,” reduces the offense level for most drug charges. This has significantly decreased the lengthy prison sentences, and because it applies retroactively, thousands of individuals can take advantage of the amendment to have their sentence reduced and get out of prison.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The federal sentencing guidelines can be confusing, even for prosecutors and judges. In order to calculate the range of a prisoner's sentence, federal judges use a formula that factors in the severity of their crime with their criminal history. Taken together, the judge must choose a correctly calculate that range, which is the Sentencing Commissions recommended term of imprisonment for the particular defendant. Then, the court must consider it as one of the sentencing factors before imposing sentence.

First, an offense level is selected, from 1 to 43, with 43 being the maximum. The offense level may be adjusted based on aggravating or mitigating factors, the relationship with the victim, and other factors. Then, criminal history points are calculated, from a low of zero up to 13 or more. After graphing the offense level against the criminal history points, the judge will have a sentencing range in terms of months. Imprisonment time ranges from 0 to 6 months for the lowest offense levels, up to life in prison for the higher offense levels.

“Drugs Minus Two” Amendment

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended adjusting the Sentencing Commission's Drug Quantity Table, which provided different offense levels based on the quantity of drugs involved. The Commission voted to adopt Amendment 728, which reduced drug offense levels by two. If a drug offense for a certain amount of cocaine resulted in an offense level of 16, it would be reduced by 2 levels to a base offense level of 14.

A two-level offense reduction could result in a reduced prison sentence of six months or more. A level 31 offense for someone with no criminal history could have a prison sentence range from 108 to 135 months (9 years to 11 years and three months). After a downward adjustment, a level 29 offense for someone with no criminal history could have a prison sentence from 87 to 108 months (7 years and 3 months to 9 years). That could mean an individual's sentence is reduced by more than two years.

“Drugs minus two” does not apply to all individuals convicted of drug crimes. “Career offenders” may not be eligible. These are individuals over the age of 18, convicted of a felony crime of violence or drug offense, with two prior felony convictions for a crime of violence or drug offense. This is sometimes known as a three-strikes law.

The lawyers at Harris & Carmichael have been working on sentence reductions of this sort since 2007 and have developed a special expertise at determining eligiblity, and securing those reductions. If a loved one has been sentenced on a drug charge, contact our lawyers to find out more about seeking a "drugs minus two" reduction. Our federal criminal defense attorneys will be able to advise on whether they may be eligible for the reduction, how long of a sentence reduction they may be able to receive, and how to go about getting the reduction.

Reductions Apply Retroactively

The “drugs minus two” amendment went into effect on November 1, 2014, reducing the offense level for individuals sentenced after that date. However, the commission also applied the reduction retroactively, taking effect on November 1, 2015. This mean that individuals already sentenced could seek a reduction in their prison sentence based on the reduced offense level. With retroactive effect, the amendment could result in relief for thousands of prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The two level adjustments will not automatically result in a sentence reduction. Individuals will have to seek relief under the amendment by filing a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). Judges will look at each application on a case-by-case basis. This includes whether the individual is eligible for a reduction, if a reduction is warranted, and how the lowered offense level will affect the individual's prison sentence.

Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers

Your experienced federal criminal defense attorneys have a history of successfully obtaining significant sentence reductions for their clients. If you or a loved one was convicted of any drug-related charge, a “drugs minus two” sentence reduction could get you out of jail. Your attorney will review your case, identify all sentence reduction options, and represent you in court. It is important to have the right lawyers on your side, who have experience getting their clients out from behind bars, and back to a normal life.

What Happens Now?

If you are incarcerated, we will contact you in the jail where you are held, and we will remain in contact throughout the pendency of your case. If you are able to come in to the office, we will ask you to come meet in person as soon as possible. Our approach to defense is zealous, organized, and fast-paced, and we look forward to helping you.

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Contact us at Harris, Carmichael, & Ellis, PLLC to schedule your initial consultation today!