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Convicts sentenced for crack-related offenses under old federal guidelines may get a chance for a reduced sentence after a Third Circuit decision in early June.
In US v. Savani et al., the Court determined that prisoners sentenced under the old federal sentencing guidelines for crack convictions, which imposed certain mandatory minimums, could appeal to lower their sentences once new guidelines were put in place.
This may mean earlier release for some petitioners who would have been incarcerated for near a decade.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Anyone who has ever had to navigate the federal sentencing guidelines will mention their byzantine and almost innavigable quality. Websites like this free sentencing calculator (which is not affiliated with the federal government) are invaluable tools to prosecutors and defendants alike in attempting to make use of these guidelines.
The petitioners in Savani wanted to change their sentences after these guidelines were retroactively amended in 2010 to lower the base (no pun intended) sentence for crack-cocaine offenses.
Sentencing Commission Policy
Convicts can petition to have their sentences lowered under 18 USC § 3582(c)(2), which provides that if an amendment or modification of sentencing range has been made, the court can lower the sentence to accord with the new range. This is, however, subject to the policy statements of the Sentencing Commission.
Deferring to their opinion in U.S. v. Fleming, the Third Circuit found the Sentencing Commission's policies too "grievously ambiguous" to be helpful, and interpreted them in a way most favorable to the petitioners.
The court seems to be giving the crack convicts in this case a bit of a pass because the government has done such a terrible job in elucidating their intent when changing their own guidelines.
Despite their attempts to cover every possible eventuality in criminal justice, the federal sentencing guidelines are often ignored in favor of greater punishment, not less.
This continued ambiguity and lack of enforcement in the federal punishment scheme may lead to some ironic results, like Albert Savani, the named petitioner of the present case, dying in prison pending his appeal.