Federal Sentencing Guidelines Amendments Part IV: Recency

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. The Sentencing Commission’s reader-friendly guide to the 2010 amendments is available here.

We discussed this amendment in detail in this post in April. The amendment deleted 4A1.1(e), which addressed the recency of previous imprisonment in calculating the criminal history points that increase a defendant’s sentence. That provision added points if the defendant committed the offense less than two years after release from imprisonment or while in imprisonment or escape status.

The proponents of this amendment argued that the recency and status guidelines were redundant, unfairly adding to the cumulative impact of the criminal history calculation. Statistics showed that the recency of a prior record, when combined with the status provision in subsection (d), predicted recidivism in only 1 case out of 1000. In addition, not only did recency fail to reflect meaningful differences in past criminal conduct, it was actually more likely to increase punishment for less culpable defendants. The effect 4A1.1(e) and (d) had on deported immigrants who illegally reentered the country was particularly egregious, considering other cumulative guidelines and their usual reasons for re-entry.

In its explanation of the amendment, the Commission also noted that public comment and testimony had indicated that many defendants who recidivate soon after being released from prison do so due to the challenges to successful reentry after imprisonment, rather than increased culpability.