Quiet Rebellion: An Empirical Analysis of Declining Federal Drug Sentences Including Data from the District Level By: Bowman and Heise There was a persistent decline throughout the 1990?s in the average sentence imposed in federal court for narcotics violations. This decline followed the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987. Starting in roughly 1991-1992, federal drug sentences commenced a steady decline that continued through the year 2000. Four sometimes overlapping story lines as to why sentences declined. First Mandatory minimum sentencing statues and the Sentencing Guidelines increased sentence length from roughly 1986 through 1991/1992. Second Beginning around 1992, national policy making organs made a series of decisions that were either consciously directed at lowering drug sentences or had that effect. In 1992 the Sentencing commission amended to permit a third offense level decrease for ?super acceptance of responsibility? (pleading guilty in a timely manner). In 1994, Congress passed the statutory safety valve, and the Sentencing Commision?s adoption in 1996 of a guideline safety valve which allowed 1-2 ?levels? of sentencing to be taken off for first time offenders. In 1996, the Supreme Court decided in Koon vs. US to increase non-substantial assistance departures. Third Beginnin in 1992, front-line actors in the sentencing system employed their discretion to an ever-increasing degree to lower drug sentence lengths. The % of mitigating role adjustments climbed steadily up (meaning they weren?t as directly involved with the drug trade including weapons) so lower sentences were given. Whereas aggravating role adjustments (where offender is a big player in the drug trade) is given higher sentences but those % declined. Guilty plea rates climbed and ?super acceptance of responsibility? rates climbed too. Four More and more prosecutors are better able to manipulate sentencing outcomes to relieve caseload pressures than are judges. There has been a trend towards exercising discretion in favor of leniency with increasing frequency. Majority of the decline in sentences is in discretionary choices of judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and probation officers. Non-discretionary items such as the Stentencing reform laws and amendments really were just discretionary powers for justice professionals to use.
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