The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP ACT, signed into law in December 2018, eases mandatory minimum sentences under federal law, reforms the U.S. federal prison system, and seeks to reduce recidivism. Title IV of the Act, which deals with sentencing reform, is especially important to people charged with a federal drug offense.
In this blog post, I’m going to discuss four sections of Title IV that directly affect prison sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses. Together these sections make significant changes to the harsh drug sentencing laws that have troubled the federal court system for three decades.
Reducing and Restricting Enhanced Sentencing for Prior Drug Felonies
Section 401 of Title IV of the FIRST STEP Act makes important changes to drug sentencing and mandatory minimum laws. These changes are not being applied retroactively for offenders who are already in prison, but are now being used in sentencing anyone convicted of federal drug offenses.
Under the previously existing law, anyone who had a prior serious drug or violent felony conviction faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison if you had been sentenced or could have been sentenced to a year or more in prison for the prior offense. If you had two or more such convictions, the mandatory minimum sentence was life imprisonment.
Under the FIRST STEP ACT, you must have actually received a sentence of one year or longer for a prior drug or violent felony conviction to result in an enhanced penalty for the current drug conviction. Also, if the prison sentence you served for a prior drug conviction ended more than 15 years ago, that prior conviction cannot be considered in order to enhance the penalty for the current conviction. Finally, if you do face a mandatory minimum sentence, it is now 15 years in prison instead of 20 for one prior qualifying conviction and 25 years rather than life imprisonment for two or more qualifying priors.
Broadening the Existing Safety Valve
Section 402 of Title IV of the FIRST STEP ACT allows the courts to avoid applicable mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders who meet specific criteria. Under the previously existing law, if you had more than 1 criminal history point, you were ineligible for “safety valve” relief from the mandatory minimum sentences, and the safety valve did not apply to most people charged with a federal drug crime.
There is more leeway in the provisions of the FIRST STEP ACT. Under the new law, you are eligible for avoiding mandatory minimum sentences if you have 4 or fewer criminal history points (not including 1-point convictions with sentences for less than 60 day, fines, probation, and deferred sentences); no sentences served for longer than a year and a month; and no violent convictions with a sentence of more than 60 days but less than a year and a month.
Limiting the Use of Enhanced Penalties for Using a Firearm
Previously existing law allowed the courts to apply higher mandatory minimum sentences to offenders with no prior convictions for using a firearm during the commission of certain crimes. The courts could apply the enhanced penalty, tacking ten or more years onto the sentence, if you were convicted of gun charges on the same day as drug charges,
The FIRST STEP Act clears up this issue. It specifies that the enhanced mandatory minimums for using a firearm during the commission of specific crimes only applies when the prior conviction is completed before the new offense is committed.
Applying the Fair Sentencing Act
The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act eliminated the disparity in sentences for crack-cocaine and other cocaine offenses, but only for those people convicted after the law was passed. The FIRST STEP act applies the change in sentencing to people already incarcerated on crack offenses.
People in federal prison can now file a motion to reduce their sentences according to the new sentencing guidelines. The court does not have to reduce the sentence, but many offenders could be eligible for reduced time.
Getting Help from an Attorney Who Know How to Fight Drug Charges
The FIRST STEP ACT will reduce sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses. However, if you’re convicted of a serious state or federal drug offense, you could still face a lengthy prison sentence and forfeiture of your assets.
Leveraging the experience of a successful Orlando drug charges defense attorney who knows how to fight drug charges is your best bet for defending your rights, keeping you out of jail, and protecting your future. Attorney Dan Eckhart has years of experience as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney. Let him put his knowledge, skills, and experience to work for you.
Call Dan at 407.276.0500 or use the “Tell Us What Happened” form on our website to contact us.