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The Process for Seeking a Retroactive Sentence Reduction Under Amendment 821

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

The Process for Seeking a Retroactive Sentence Reduction Under Amendment 821

So you or your loved one is currently serving time in federal prison and you heard about this new law called Amendment 821 that could potentially reduce sentences for some folks already locked up. Well, you came to the right place cause I’m gonna break down everything you need to know about whether you might qualify for one of these retroactive sentence reductions and how to go about getting it.

Now I ain’t no fancy lawyer or nothing, just a regular Joe who wants to help people understand this legal mumbo jumbo in simple terms. So stick with me and I’ll walk you through it.

What is Amendment 821?

First things first, what the heck is Amendment 821 anyways? Well in a nutshell, it’s a change that the U.S. Sentencing Commission made to the sentencing guidelines judges use when giving federal sentences. Specifically, they tweaked some of the rules about how a defendant’s criminal history is calculated when determining their guideline range.

The main pieces of the amendment that matter for retroactive sentence reductions are:

  • Part A – Reduces “status points” that are added when someone commits a crime while on probation, parole, supervised release, etc.
  • Part B, Subpart 1 – Creates a way for judges to reduce sentences by 2 levels for defendants with very minimal criminal histories whose current offense isn’t too serious.

So in essence, this amendment helps out people who have lower level criminal histories from getting slammed so hard at sentencing. Reducing some of those criminal history points can lower the final guideline range, which means the judge has more flexibility to hand down a lower sentence.

Who can get a retroactive reduction?

Now you’re probably wondering – cool, but does this help me or my loved one who’s already been sentenced? The answer is maybe. Here’s how it works:

After the Sentencing Commission passed Amendment 821, they voted to allow it to apply retroactively. This means some folks already serving their sentences can potentially get them reduced under the new rules. But it doesn’t apply to everyone automatically – you have to meet certain criteria to be eligible.

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The main requirements are:

  • You must have been sentenced before August 24, 2023 when the amendment passed.
  • Part of your sentence must have been calculated based on guidelines changed by Parts A or B Subpart 1 of the amendment.
  • You can’t have already had a sentence reduction under a previous retroactive amendment.

There are a few other technicalities too, but those are the big ones. The Sentencing Commission estimates around 11,500 people will be eligible under Part A and around 7,300 under Part B Subpart 1. So not everyone will qualify, but a decent number of current federal inmates will.

How do you apply for a reduction?

If you think you or your loved one meets the eligibility criteria, you’re probably wondering how you go about actually applying for one of these retroactive sentence reductions. Here’s the deal:

You don’t have to do anything right now. The amendment won’t officially be retroactive until February 1, 2024. That’s to give the courts time to gear up and handle all the applications. Closer to that date, the federal Bureau of Prisons will review everyone who might qualify and notify them.

Once you get that notice, you can file a motion in federal court requesting the sentence reduction. The judge will then look at your case and decide whether to lower your sentence based on the new guidelines. There’s no guarantee they will – it’s up to their discretion. But if you qualify, you have a good shot.

One thing to keep in mind is you can only get a reduction that the new guideline range allows. So even if you qualify, the judge can only lower your sentence to what it could have been under Amendment 821. They don’t just get to knock off whatever amount they want.

What should you do now?

Since the process doesn’t formally start until February 2024, here are some things you or your loved one can do now to prepare:

  • Review eligibility criteria and estimate what your new guideline range could be.
  • Start gathering documents related to your criminal history and sentencing.
  • Consider contacting the lawyer who handled your original case.
  • If you qualify, notify family and ask for support letters.
  • Look into prison programs and demonstrate rehabilitation.

Doing those things now will put you in the best position when it comes time to formally apply. The court will look at things like your behavior in prison, participation in programs, and support system when deciding whether to reduce your sentence. So laying that groundwork early can only help.

What’s the process for the court to decide?

I know you’re probably wondering exactly what happens once you apply and how the judge decides whether to lower your sentence or not. Let me break it down for you:

After you apply, the probation office will do an investigation and prepare a report about your case. They’ll calculate what your new guideline range would be under Amendment 821 and provide info about your behavior in prison, programs completed, etc.

The judge will review that report and consider the facts and circumstances of your case. They will decide whether a reduction is warranted based on factors like:

  • Your conduct while incarcerated.
  • Involvement in educational, vocational, or other rehabilitation programs.
  • Letters of support from family, friends, staff.
  • Whether you remain a danger to the community.
  • Your potential for positive re-entry into society.

The judge has a lot of discretion in deciding what weight to give each of those factors. There will likely be a hearing where you can present your case for why you deserve the reduction. If the judge agrees, they will issue an order reducing your sentence to a term within the amended guideline range.

What should you expect if you get a reduction?

If the judge grants your motion and reduces your sentence, a few things will happen:

  • The judge’s order will specify your new reduced sentence length.
  • If the new sentence is less than time already served, you could be released immediately.
  • If not, your release date will be recalculated based on the lower sentence.
  • Supervised release term may also be reduced proportionately.
  • You’ll serve the remainder of your term as if originally sentenced to the lower length.

So in the best case you may get to walk out the prison doors right away if the reduction is big enough. If not, you’ll at least have a lower sentence you’ll serve out. Either way, you’ll be on your way to freedom sooner than originally scheduled.

What happens if the judge denies your request?

I know no one wants to think about getting denied, but it is a possibility so you should be prepared. If the judge decides not to reduce your sentence, here’s what happens:

  • You’ll keep serving your original sentence with no changes.
  • The judge’s denial order can be appealed within 14 days.
  • You can request a reconsideration within 18 months if circumstances change.
  • After 18 months you can apply again showing extraordinary circumstances.

So all hope isn’t lost if you get rejected the first time. You may be able to get the decision overturned on appeal or convince the judge to take another look down the road. Don’t give up!

What’s the bottom line on retroactive reduction under Amendment 821?

The bottom line is Amendment 821 offers a real opportunity for some federal inmates to get their sentences reduced. If you were sentenced before August 2023 and meet the eligibility criteria, make sure to keep a close eye out for notices from BOP in early 2024. Be ready to act fast and put your best foot forward to convince the judge you deserve the reduction.

It’s not a sure thing and will depend a lot on the judge’s discretion. But this amendment gives you a fighting chance to get out of prison sooner than expected. So get your stuff together and be prepared to seize that opportunity for your best shot at an early release. Good luck and don’t give up hope!


[1] https://www.ussc.gov/about/news/press-releases/august-24-2023

[2] https://www.ussc.gov/policymaking/materials-relating-2023-criminal-history-amendment

[3] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/09/01/2023-18977/sentencing-guidelines-for-the-united-states-courts

[4] https://www.federallawyers.com/criminal-defense/retroactivity-of-amendment-821-to-federal-sentencing/

[5] https://www.chapmanlawgroup.com/practice_areas/amendment-821-federal-sentence-reduction/

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2023/08/25/sentencing-commission-oks-retroactive-reduction-for-many-inmates/?sh=24a9185e1c8c

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