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Sentencing Archives

Sentence Reductions Under the First Step Act

In 2018, Congress passed the reformative First Step Act, commonly called the FSA. One of the FSA’s reforms allows certain inmates to receive greater reductions for good behavior than was previously possible. This posts examines the FSA’s changes to earned time credit.


For many decades, inmates showing progress towards rehabilitation could serve part of their sentences outside of prison on parole. However, in 1987, Congress eliminated parole. With parole abolished, the only sentence reduction available for most inmates was a modest 15% for good behavior. This reduction, defined as “good time credit,” reduce 15% of a prison sentence. That’s … Read More »

Getting out of Prison on Compassionate Release

In 2018, Congress expanded the so-called “compassionate release” statute to allow inmates to petition their sentencing judges for reductions based on extraordinary circumstances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the amended compassionate release statute probably saved the lives of many vulnerable inmates that judges saw fit to release. This post gives a summary of the provisions of this important law.

Background of Compassionate Release

Prior to 1987, inmates serving federal sentences could apply for and receive parole based on good behavior. After Congress eliminated parole, all inmates had to serve their entire sentences minus a modest reduction of up to 15% for … Read More »

A Closer Look at First Step Act Changes to 851 Enhancements

The First Step Act is a criminal justice reform bill that has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. It has been endorsed by President Trump.

The bill covers lots of subjects but one important one is changes to enhancements for repeat drug offenders. Defense lawyers and federal prosecutors often refer to these as “851 enhancements” after the code section that sets forth the procedures for imposing them.

As the law stands now a defendant convicted of a 10 year minimum federal drug offense with at least one felony drug prior can have his … Read More »

Can I be sentenced for a crime I am found not guilty of?

Imagine the following scenario: you have been charged in a multi-count indictment with several interrelated crimes—one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of structuring. The jury acquitted you of the more serious crime of wire fraud conspiracy, but convicted you of structuring. A good outcome, right? The answer may actually surprise you, as your ultimate sentence can end up being just as high as if you have been convicted of both crimes.

As explained in our federal sentencing page, sentences for federal convictions are decided by the judge, who is required by law to consider a … Read More »

Understanding Career Offender Status in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

We recently published a new page addressing the career offender status in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.