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What Does the First Step Act Mean for Your Federal Drug Case?

The First Step Act: A Game Changer for Federal Drug Cases

You may have heard about the First Step Act, a groundbreaking piece of criminal justice reform legislation that was signed into law in December 2018. This law has been a game changer for many individuals serving time in federal prison for drug offenses. At Spodek Law Group, we’ve seen firsthand how the First Step Act is providing a second chance to deserving individuals and reuniting families.As experienced federal criminal defense attorneys, we understand the ins and outs of this complex law and how it can benefit our clients. In this article, we’ll break down the key provisions of the First Step Act and explain how it is transforming the landscape of federal drug cases. Whether you or a loved one are currently facing drug charges or serving a sentence, this information is crucial to understand.

What is the First Step Act?

The First Step Act, or FSA for short, is a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. The goal of the law is to reduce recidivism, decrease the federal prison population, and maintain public safety.Some of the key reforms in the First Step Act include:

  • Retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences
  • Expansion of the federal “safety valve” (allowing judges to avoid mandatory minimums for more defendants)
  • Elimination of “stacking” for firearm offenses in drug cases
  • Expanded earned time credits and programming for federal prisoners
  • Improved conditions for incarcerated women
  • Reauthorization of the Second Chance Act to provide more reentry services

While the First Step Act contains many important reforms, the provisions related to drug cases are some of the most significant. Let’s take a closer look at how this law is changing the game for federal drug defendants and inmates.

Sentencing Reforms for Drug Cases

One of the centerpieces of the First Step Act is the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. This law reduced the infamous 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Before the Fair Sentencing Act, it took 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum penalties.This disparity had a hugely disproportionate impact on African American defendants, who were more likely to be charged with crack offenses. The Fair Sentencing Act reduced this disparity to 18-to-1, but it did not apply retroactively to individuals who were already sentenced.The First Step Act finally made this change retroactive, allowing over 2,600 crack cocaine offenders to petition for reduced sentences. Our firm has already helped many clients get time off their sentences thanks to this provision. If you believe you or a loved one may qualify for relief under this part of the First Step Act, contact us right away.In addition to making the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, the First Step Act also expanded the federal “safety valve.” This provision allows judges to sentence certain non-violent drug offenders below the mandatory minimum if they meet specific criteria. The FSA widened the safety valve so that more defendants can qualify, including those with slightly more extensive criminal histories.This reform is crucial because mandatory minimums have fueled mass incarceration and taken discretion away from judges. By expanding the safety valve, the First Step Act is allowing more individuals to get fairer, more proportionate sentences based on their unique circumstances.Another key sentencing reform in the First Step Act is the elimination of “stacking” for certain firearm offenses in drug cases. Previously, prosecutors could “stack” multiple 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for repeat firearm offenses, even if the offenses were charged in the same indictment. This draconian practice resulted in life sentences for some non-violent drug offenders.The First Step Act clarified that these enhanced mandatory minimums can only apply when the prior conviction was already final, preventing the unfair stacking of sentences. This change is not retroactive, but it will prevent the worst sentencing outcomes for defendants charged today.At Spodek Law Group, we are well-versed in all of these sentencing reforms and know how to use them to advocate for our clients facing federal drug charges. With our help, we may be able to secure a more lenient sentence that enables our clients to return home to their families sooner.

Earned Time Credits and Prison Programming

In addition to sentencing reforms, the First Step Act also made major changes to the way individuals can earn time off their sentences through programming and good behavior. The law increased the amount of “good time” credit that federal prisoners can earn from 47 days to 54 days per year. This change is being applied retroactively, meaning that many current inmates will see their release dates moved up.The First Step Act also directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to develop a risk and needs assessment tool to assign inmates to appropriate evidence-based recidivism reduction programs and productive activities. Inmates who successfully complete these programs can earn additional “earned time” credits that can be used to transfer to pre-release custody, such as home confinement or a halfway house.These earned time credit provisions have the potential to get more individuals out of prison and back to their communities sooner. However, the rollout of the risk assessment tool and earned time credits has been rocky so far.The pandemic delayed implementation, and there have been issues with certain inmates being excluded from earning credits. The BOP is still in the process of applying earned time credits to inmate records.At Spodek Law Group, we are monitoring these developments closely so that we can help our clients take full advantage of earned time credit opportunities. We also assist clients with navigating the BOP’s administrative remedy process if they encounter issues having their credits applied properly.

Compassionate Release During COVID-19

While not part of the original First Step Act, another way that federal inmates have been securing early release is through compassionate release motions. When the pandemic hit, the FSA’s expansion of compassionate release became a critical tool for getting vulnerable inmates out of harm’s way.Previously, only the BOP could file compassionate release motions. But thanks to the First Step Act, inmates can now file these motions directly with the court if the BOP does not respond to their request or denies it.With COVID-19 spreading rapidly in federal prisons, courts have granted thousands of compassionate release motions for inmates with health issues that make them susceptible to serious illness or death from the virus. At Spodek Law Group, we have filed many successful compassionate release motions for clients during the pandemic.Even as the pandemic subsides, compassionate release will remain an important mechanism for inmates facing extraordinary and compelling circumstances. If you or a loved one are seeking compassionate release, we can help you put together the strongest possible motion and advocate for your release in court.

The Importance of Working with Experienced Federal Defense Attorneys

As you can see, the First Step Act has brought about many positive changes for individuals charged with or convicted of federal drug crimes. However, taking advantage of these reforms requires working with experienced federal criminal defense attorneys who thoroughly understand the complexities of the law.At Spodek Law Group, we have been representing clients in high-stakes federal cases for decades. We have a proven track record of success in drug cases, from securing acquittals at trial to negotiating favorable plea agreements to winning sentencing reductions and compassionate release.We take a comprehensive, team-based approach to every case we handle. When you hire us, you get a whole team of top-notch attorneys and staff working tirelessly on your behalf. We leave no stones unturned in fighting for the best possible outcome.Some of the key benefits of working with our firm include:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
2024-03-21
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
2024-03-18
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
2024-03-18
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
2024-03-15
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
2024-03-15
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
2024-03-12
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
2024-03-12
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
2024-02-28
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
2024-02-24
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • In-Depth Knowledge of Federal Drug Laws: We have an encyclopedic understanding of federal drug statutes, case law, and sentencing guidelines. We know how to spot weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and raise every possible defense.
  • Extensive Trial Experience: If your case needs to go to trial, you want attorneys in your corner who have been there before. Our lawyers have tried countless federal cases before juries with great success. We are outstanding oral advocates and skilled cross-examiners.
  • Sentencing Expertise: In the federal system, sentencing is a highly complex process that requires specialized knowledge. We are well-versed in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and know how to make the most persuasive arguments for downward departures and variances.
  • Compassionate Release Proficiency: We have been on the forefront of compassionate release litigation during the pandemic, winning freedom for many clients. We know what it takes to put together a winning motion and get vulnerable inmates released.
  • Commitment to Client Service: We know that facing federal charges or imprisonment is a terrifying ordeal. We are here to guide you through the process with compassion, communication, and zealous advocacy. You will always be able to get in touch with us to have your questions and concerns addressed.

If you or someone you love is facing a federal drug case, the stakes could not be higher. Your freedom, your family, and your future are all on the line. Don’t settle for anything less than the best possible representation.

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