The United States Sentencing Commission issued a report on March 15th titled Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Firearms Offenses in the Federal Criminal Justice System. This is the third publication in the Commission’s series on mandatory minimum penalties, including the 2017 Mandatory Minimum Overview and the 2017 Drug Mandatory Minimum Report.
Yesterday’s Mandatory Minimum Firearms report uses fiscal year 2016 data and focuses on firearms offenses, the second most common federal offenses carrying mandatory minimums after drug offenses. The report analyzes two statutes carrying minimum mandatory penalties: (1) 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (relating to using, carrying or possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking or crime of violence); and (2) 18 U.S.C. 924(e), the Armed Career Criminal Act. The publication also addresses the impact of these statutes on the Bureau of Prison’s prisoner population.
Here are some highlights from the 81-page report:
1. Firearms mandatory minimum penalties continue to result in long sentences although they have decreased since fiscal year 2010.
2. Offenders charged with and convicted of multiple counts under section 924(c)received exceptionally long sentences as a result of the statutory requirement that the sentence for each count be served consecutively.
3. In addition, other charging and plea decisions also play a significant role in theapplication and impact of firearms mandatory minimum penalties.
4. Statutory relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) for providing substantial assistance to the government plays a significant role in the application and impact of firearms mandatory minimum penalties.
5. While the rate at which firearms offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum has been stable, the number of offenders convicted of offenses carrying such penalties has decreased significantly since fiscal year 2010.
6. Firearms mandatory minimum penalties continue to impact Black offenders more than any other racial group.
Last week the United States Sentencing Commission released its 2017 Annual Report and 2017 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing. FY2017 encompasses the federal government’s fiscal year October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017 and includes data on sentencings occurring during this period and reported to the Commission before February 14, 2018. Together the Report and Sourcebook represent the annual report required by 28 U.S.C. § 997, as well as analysis, recommendations, and accounting referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 994(w)(3).
The 2017 Annual Report provides information on the Commission’s activities, such as conducting research, collecting and reporting sentencing data, sentencing policy development (i.e., guideline amendments), and training and outreach.
The 273-page 2017 Sourcebook contains sentencing statistics on a wide range of variables—such as length of sentences and adjustments for various primary offenses—in each federal judicial circuit and district, reflected in tables, figures, and pie charts. The information in the Sourcebook is also available in the Commission’s online resource Interactive Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. The data in the interactive sourcebook can be tailored to any district or group of districts. Here are some highlights from the Sourcebook data:
- In FY 2017, the courts reported 66,873 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases to the Commission. This represents a decrease of 869 cases from the prior fiscal year.
- The race of federal offenders remained largely unchanged from prior years. In FY 2017, 53.2 percent of all offenders were Hispanic, 21.5 percent were White, 21.1 percent were Black, and 4.2 percent were of another race. Non-U.S. citizens accounted for 40.7 percent of all offenders.
- Drug cases accounted for the largest single group of offenses in FY 2017, comprising 30.8 percent of all reported cases. Cases involving immigration, firearms, and fraud were the next most common types of offenses after drug cases. Together these four types of offenses accounted for 82.4 percent of all cases reported to the Commission in FY 2017.
- Among drug cases, offenses involving methamphetamine were most common, accounting for 34.6 percent of all drug cases.
- Drug sentences remained relatively stable across all drug types in fiscal year 2017. The average length of imprisonment increased slightly from FY 2016 in cases involving methamphetamines, from 90 months to 91 months, and also in marijuana cases, from 28 months to 29 months. In fiscal year 2017, 44.2 percent of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.
The PEW Charitable Trusts issued a brief, earlier this month, reporting on the relationship between prison terms and the reduction in rates of drug use, arrests, and overdose deaths.
The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests. “In other words, higher rates of drug imprisonment did not translate into lower rates of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths.” The PEW study also revealed that in states that had revised their drug penalties, prison populations had been reduced without an increase in crime rates.
Additionally, in South Carolina, after the state expanded probation and parole opportunities for people convicted of drug offenses, the prison population decreased by 14 percent, a larger proportion of the state’s inmates were convicted of violent offenses, and the violent crime rate dropped by 16 percent between 2010 and 2015.
The brief concluded that research revealed that “some strategies for reducing drug use and crime are more effective than others and that imprisonment ranks near the bottom of the list.”
A year-end analysis of by the Brennan Center for Justice, titled Crime in 2017: Updated Analysis, directly undercuts any claims that there is a nationwide crime wave. According to the report, “[a]ll measures of crime in the 30 largest American cities—the overall crime rate, violent crime rate, and murder rate—are estimated to decline in 2017,” although there are some cities where violence has increased, like Chicago and Charlotte. Here are some key findings of the Brennan Center’s analysis:
- The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 is estimated to decline slightly from 2016, falling by 2.7 percent.
- The violent crime rate will also decrease slightly, by 1.1 percent, essentially remaining stable.
- The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by 5.6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago (down 11.9 percent) and Detroit (down 9.8 percent), as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. New York City’s murder rate will also decline again, to 3.3 killings per 100,000 people.
- Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Charlotte (54.6 percent) and Baltimore (11.3 percent).
On October 13, 2017, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a Statement supporting certain provisions in the Senate’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. The bill proposes to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenses, restore judicial discretion in sentencing in more cases, move sentencing levels down in many cases so that low-level crimes are adequately but not excessively punished, and make retroactive sentencing reductions in crimes involving crack cocaine prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said,
The sentencing reduction provisions in this legislation are necessary to hew closer to the fair administration of justice in our country, and ensure that the criminal justice system does not more harshly judge marginalized communities without basis. I urge Congress to take swift action to correct these injustices.
Established in 1957 by the Civil Rights Act, the Commission on Civil Rights is the only independent, bipartisan federal agency charged with advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing an annual federal civil rights enforcement report.