Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part I: Alternatives to Incarceration

Ed. Note: On November 1, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s 2010 Amendments to the federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect, along with a temporary, emergency amendment to implement Section 8 of the Fair Sentencing Act. On the whole, the amendments reflect a reduction in federal criminal sentences and provide the sentencing judge with additional discretion. In the coming weeks, we will post analyses of some of the more important changes to the Guidelines. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2010 amendments is available here.

As we noted in this post in April, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has amended the Guidelines to expand the availability of alternatives to incarceration, such as residential treatment programs, home detention, and intermittent confinement. This amendment expands Zones B and C of the Sentencing Table by one level each. It also amends Application Note 6 of § 5C1.1 (Imposition of a Term of Imprisonment) to say that a departure from the options allowed for Zone C to those of Zone B for a specific treatment purpose should be considered only when the court finds that the defendant is an addict, alcoholic, or mentally ill and his or her criminality is related to the treatment problem to be addressed.

Under Zone B, the minimum term may be satisfied by intermittent confinement, community confinement, or home detention instead of imprisonment. Under Zone C, at least half of the sentence must be served in prison. Defendants falling under Zone D must serve their entire sentences in prison.

Zone B now contains all guideline ranges having a minimum between one and nine months and Zone C now contains all guideline ranges having a minimum of between ten and twelve months. In other words, with minimal criminal history, an offense level of 11 is now in Zone B and level 13 is now in Zone C.

The new language of § 5C1.1 Application Note 6 is:

There may be cases in which a departure from the sentencing options authorized for Zone C of the Sentencing Table (under which at least half the minimum term must be satisfied by imprisonment) to the sentencing options authorized for Zone B of the Sentencing Table (under which all or most of the minimum term may be satisfied by intermittent confinement, community confinement, or home detention instead of imprisonment) is appropriate to accomplish a specific treatment purpose. Such a departure should be considered only in cases where the court finds that (A) the defendant is an abuser of narcotics, other controlled substances, or alcohol, or suffers from a significant mental illness, and (B) the defendant’s criminality is related to the treatment problem to be addressed.

In determining whether such a departure is appropriate, the court should consider, among other considerations, (1) the likelihood that completion of the treatment program will successfully address the treatment problem, thereby reducing the risk to the public from further crimes of the defendant, and (2) whether imposition of less imprisonment than required by Zone C will increase the risk to the public from further crimes of the defendant.

Examples: The following examples both assume the applicable guideline range is 12-18 months and the court departs in accordance with this application note. Under Zone C rules, the defendant must be sentenced to at least six months imprisonment. (1) The defendant is a nonviolent drug offender in Criminal History Category I and probation is not prohibited by statute. The court departs downward to impose a sentence of probation, with twelve months of intermittent confinement, community confinement, or home detention and participation in a substance abuse treatment program as conditions of probation. (2) The defendant is convicted of a Class A or B felony, so probation is prohibited by statute (see § 5B1.1(b)). The court departs downward to impose a sentence of one month imprisonment, with eleven months in community confinement or home detention and participation in a substance abuse treatment program as conditions of supervised release

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This amendment would have applied to 6% of the federal defendants sentenced in 2009. While the impact of the amendment is limited to such a small percentage, it will have a huge impact on those defendants who are now eligible for alternatives to incarceration, as well as their families and even their community. Alternative sentencing allows employment, which helps the defendant to continue to support his or her family and pay back any restitution to victims. It also allows for treatment, which reduces recidivism rates.