24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

Client Testimonials



The BEST LAWYER ANYONE COULD ASK FOR!!! Todd changed our lives! He’s not JUST a lawyer representing us for a case. Todd and his office have become Family. When we entered his office in August of 2022, we entered with such anxiety, uncertainty, and so much stress. Honestly we were very lost. My husband and I felt alone. How could a lawyer who didn’t know us, know our family, know our background represents us, When this could change our lives for the next 5-7years that my husband was facing in Federal jail. By the time our free consultation was over with Todd, we left his office at ease. All our questions were answered and we had a sense of relief.

schedule a consultation


The Waiting Game: Timing of Amendment 821 Retroactive Sentence Reductions

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

The Waiting Game: Timing of Amendment 821 Retroactive Sentence Reductions

The recent decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow retroactive application of Amendment 821 starting February 2024 is a big frickin’ deal for lots of federal inmates and their families. This amendment changes how criminal history is calculated when determining sentence lengths under the guidelines. The main thing it does is give judges more flexibility to reduce sentences for folks with minor records, instead of getting slammed with extra points that jack up their guideline range.

So in plain English, some peeps doing hard time under the old rules could get their sentences lowered come February if the judge agrees it’s justified. But it ain’t automatic – they gotta file a motion making their case for why they deserve a reduction based on the changes.

Letting Amendment 821 apply retroactively has been mad controversial. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the main pros n’ cons that folks have been debating:

Potential Pros

  • Corrects crazy harsh sentences for some inmates
  • Creates more fair punishments for low-level crimes
  • Saves taxpayer dough by reducing number of folks locked up
  • Increases fairness in the justice system

Potential Cons

  • Messes with finality of sentences already handed out
  • Lets some criminals off the hook early who maybe don’t deserve it
  • Causes logistical headaches for courts and prisons
  • Opens floodgates to tons of motions from inmates

So yeah, there’s reasonable arguments on both sides. The main thing is, the ball is rolling now to undo some of the most whack sentencing policies from back in the day. But it’s gonna take a long time for all this to shake out. Let’s break it down…

What does Amendment 821 actually change?

The main thing it does is reduce how much someone’s criminal history counts against them when calculating their sentencing guideline range. Before this amendment, minor prior convictions could jack up your range way more than made sense. Like getting busted once for weed when you were 19 could lead to years more prison time down the road for a totally unrelated crime. Crazy right?

The Sentencing Commission decided those old rules were just too freakin’ harsh for folks with minor records. Amendment 821 gives judges more wiggle room to lower sentences for people who got slapped with too many criminal history points under the old guidelines. It also changes how some previous convictions can count, so not as many will automatically increase the guideline range.

Bottom line – this amendment helps fix cases where someone’s guideline range was higher than it should’ve been based only on having a couple petty convictions in their past. If those previous busts were for small stuff and didn’t hurt nobody, judges can now say they shouldn’t count as much.

When does Amendment 821 retroactivity start?

The Commission voted to delay the effective date for retroactivity to February 1, 2024. So that’s when inmates can start filing motions asking for sentence reductions under the new rules. Big caveat though – even if someone is eligible, it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to get a shorter sentence. The judge still has to agree that a reduction is appropriate based on their specific case facts.

The Commission said the delay was needed to give the courts time to gear up for the wave of filings expected from federal inmates. Prisons also need time to figure out transitional services like halfway house placements for folks who do get released early. Letting thousands hit the streets all at once without support would be a hot mess. The phase-in gives the system a chance to deal with the impact.

What’s the process for inmates to get sentences reduced?

Starting February 1, 2024, inmates who were sentenced under the old guidelines can file a motion asking the court to cut their sentence. But here’s the catch – nothing will happen automatically! Don’t think the prison is just gonna open your cell door one day and say you’re free to go. You gotta take action and petition the judge, saying how Amendment 821 applies to your specific case.

The judge will then review your criminal history and see if you actually qualify for a lower guideline range. If so, they’ll decide whether to reduce your sentence or not. Some factors they might consider are your behavior in prison, participation in rehab programs, risk to public safety if released early, etc. So even if you’re eligible on paper, the judge might still say no dice and deny your motion.

If you don’t have a lawyer, you’ll have to research Amendment 821 yourself and file a pro se motion from prison. That’s a tall order, so start prepping your case now. Learn the legal standards backwards and forwards so you can argue why you deserve a reduction. Team up with jailhouse lawyers to put together the strongest motion possible. This is your one shot, so come correct!

How much time can someone get reduced?

The Sentencing Commission estimates about 11,500 currently incarcerated folks will have a lower guideline range under Amendment 821. For those people, the average reduction is forecast to be around 14 months off their sentence. But again, nothing is guaranteed. Some inmates will get bigger cuts, some smaller, and some none at all. Don’t go counting down the days to your release just yet – the judge has the final say.

Even a year less locked up would be huge for many inmates though. Shorter sentences mean fewer years separated from your family and community. Any amount of time is precious, so if you qualify, fight hard for that reduction! Don’t leave any months on the table if you can avoid it.

What about inmates already released?

Unfortunately Amendment 821 doesn’t apply to anyone already released from prison as of February 1, 2024. It only covers people still incarcerated when the changes kick in. So if you’re already out, don’t get your hopes up about having your sentence shortened after the fact. This amendment only looks forward, not backward.

That really sucks for all the former inmates who served extra years under the old guidelines before this change happened. But the Commission had to draw the line somewhere.

Will every eligible inmate get a reduction?

Heck no! Just because you qualify doesn’t mean the judge will actually lower your sentence. Some inmates will have ironclad cases that make a reduction almost certain. But others who barely qualify will see their motions denied. It all depends on the details of your criminal history, behavior in prison, risk to the public if released early, and other individual circumstances.

Judges will also consider if you participated in rehab programs, earned good time credits, etc. Basically – did you use your time in prison productively to turn your life around? Or did you just sit around causing trouble? That could make or break your request for a shorter sentence.

Bottom line – take a hard look in the mirror. If you’ve been a model inmate actively working to better yourself, highlight that in your motion. But if you’ve been in fights, caught with contraband, joined a gang, or other bad stuff – your odds of a reduction drop way down.

What’s the deadline to file for a reduction?

You’ll have one year from February 1, 2024 to submit your motion. After that, the window closes for good. So don’t drag your feet researching this or trying to find a lawyer. Get the ball rolling ASAP once February hits so you don’t miss the cutoff. Set a calendar reminder if you’re scared you’ll forget.

If you do blow the deadline, you can say bye-bye to any chance of a shorter sentence. This amendment expires 365 days from the effective date, no exceptions. The courts don’t want to keep re-litigating old sentences for years to come. This gives everyone a fair shot without overloading the system indefinitely.

What about mandatory minimums?

If part of your sentence was a mandatory minimum term required by law, Amendment 821 doesn’t authorize the judge to go below that. It only allows reductions based on lowering your guideline range. Any mandatory portions of your sentence can’t be changed.

For example, if you got busted with 50 grams of meth and had a 5-year mandatory minimum, the judge can’t touch that part of your sentence. The reduction can only apply to any extra time above the mandatory minimum. So if you were originally sentenced to 10 years, the judge could lower it to 7 or 8 years, but no less than the required 5-year minimum.

Should you get a lawyer?

Finding a qualified lawyer to help file your motion is highly recommended. The sentencing guidelines are hella complicated, and Amendment 821 has a lot of moving parts. Having an expert in your corner who knows all the technical details will give you the best shot.

But good lawyers aren’t cheap, and this amendment applies to thousands of inmates. So the demand for attorneys will be bonkers. If you can scrape together some money, look for someone experienced with the sentencing guidelines and federal post-conviction motions.

If you absolutely can’t afford a lawyer, don’t panic yet. You can still file pro se by researching everything yourself. Just know it’s an uphill battle without professional help. Connect with jailhouse lawyers and learn the process inside out. Read up on successful motions from other inmates. And don’t be afraid to ask the court for guidance – they want to see well-prepared motions too.

What’s next?

While February 2024 kicks off the initial wave of filings, the ripple effects of Amendment 821 will impact the federal prison population and courts for many years to come. Thousands of motions will swamp the system, each requiring thoughtful review. Even with additional resources, it will take time for judges to handle this influx.

Despite the challenges, many see this amendment as an important step toward balancing justice and mercy in sentencing law. Giving judges more flexibility to correct unfair outcomes is a win for common sense. But the real work starts now as inmates advocate for reduced terms and the courts handle this unprecedented caseload.

For anyone potentially impacted, don’t just wait and hope for the best. Be proactive researching Amendment 821 so you’re ready to file a compelling motion right out the gate in February. This train is leaving the station soon – make sure you have your ticket punched or you’ll miss it!

Lawyers You Can Trust

Todd Spodek

Founding Partner

view profile



view profile


Associate Attorney

view profile



view profile



view profile



view profile



view profile

Criminal Defense Lawyers Trusted By the Media

schedule a consultation
Schedule Your Consultation Now