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New federal sentencing guidelines possible

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators led by Chuck Grassley has agreed upon the most substantial rewrite of federal sentencing guidelines in a generation. It is believed that this will give judges more flexibility to avoid mandatory minimums that have disproportionately affected minorities.

No more stacking

The bill would get rid of the so-called stacking regulation that required any charge to be a firearm charge if there was possession of a firearm while committing another crime. An example would be drug charges heightened to the federal level if weapons were involved, even if the defendant was a non-violent offender where the gun was not used.

Crack and cocaine now seen as equal

The bill would also extend an equalization of sentencing between offenders caught with crack cocaine and the powdered version of cocaine. The change was initially made in 2010 and now would be confirmed once again. As with stacking, this is also looked at as an equalization sentencing that had previously punished blacks at a much higher rate.

No more lock them up and throw away the key

According to advocates, this would be the first meaningful legislation we have had since the ‘90s, when legislation focused on punishment and zero tolerance. There have been countless cases involving long-term incarceration for relatively minor or non-violent crimes. While the bill would not be retroactive, the idea is to reduce the stress and cost upon the U.S. penal system as well as rehabilitate instead of punish.

Trump may be the deciding factor

Many in Washington and around the country wonder how our mercurial president will respond to potential legislation. This will be no different, but the bill has support within the president’s circle of advisors from Jared Kushner and at least two Republican Senators will also speak to the president on behalf of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said the bill would go before the Senate if it had at least 60 votes of support.

Moving forward

Whether this bill goes through, or the Democrats decide to wait until the new Congress with the majority in the House of Representatives, we likely see new sentencing guidelines for those involved in non-violent crimes. Regardless of the circumstances, it is always advisable for those facing criminal charges to work with an experienced criminal law attorney to reduce sentencing to appropriate levels or dismiss penalties. Sentencing guidelines may change, but the need for legal representation remains.

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