Published on: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Today, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) issued a new report titled Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Drug Offenses in the Federal System.  Based on fiscal year 2016 data, the report provides sentencing data on drug offenses carrying minimum mandatory sentences, impact on the Federal Bureau of Prisons population, and differences between each of five main drug types (powder cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin).   Of the 67,742 total cases reported to the USSC in fiscal year 2016, 21.9% of the offenders were convicted of an offense involving a mandatory minimum sentence, while 13.4% of all offenders remained subject to mandatory minimum sentences at sentencing. 

The publication makes the following key findings:

  • Drug mandatory minimum penalties continued to result in long sentences in the federal system.
  • Mandatory minimum penalties continued to have a significant impact on the size and composition of the federal prison population.
    • As of September 30, 2016, 49.1% of federal inmates were drug offenders
    • 72.3% of offenders in federal prison were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, and more than half (50.4%) remained subject to that penalty at sentencing
  • Offenses carrying a drug mandatory minimum penalty were used less often, as the number and percentage of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty has decreased since fiscal year 2010.
  •  While fewer offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty in recent years, those who were tended to be more serious.
  •  Drug mandatory minimum penalties applied more broadly than Congress may have anticipated.
  •  Statutory relief plays a significant role in the application and impact of drug mandatory minimum penalties and results in significantly reduced sentences when applied.
  •  Additionally, drug mandatory minimum penalties appear to provide a significant incentive to provide substantial assistance to the government pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and the related guideline provision at USSG §5K1.1.
  • However, neither the statutory safety valve provision at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) nor the substantial assistance provision at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) fully ameliorate the impact of drug mandatory minimum penalties on relatively low-level offenders.
  • There were significant demographic shifts in the data relating to mandatory minimum penalties.
  • Although likely due in part to an older age at release, drug trafficking offenders convicted of an offense carrying a drug mandatory minimum.

The Training Division provides a sentencing resource page where practitioners will find articles and other materials to help them understand federal sentencing law and argue for the best possible sentence for the client.