On Tuesday, president Obama made headlines when he decided to exercise his commutation power to reduce prison sentences for 22 inmates in federal prisons. The event is unique not only because of President Obama’s conservative exercise of his pardon and commutation powers, but also because many of the inmates were serving out lengthy prison terms for non-violent drug offenses.
Since the inmates were sentenced, the federal sentencing guidelines have undergone revisions that would have resulted in most of them having already served out their terms. For this reason, the President commented that the inmates had been subjected to an “outdated sentencing regime.” The commutations are part of a broader effort at the federal level to correct the imbalances of the old sentencing system which led to overcrowding in prisons.
There is a tendency to think of criminal cases as ending at conviction, and sentencing as merely a formality, but sentencing is an important aspect of the criminal defense process, particularly for those convicted of offenses subject to federal sentencing guidelines. Sentencing is more than simply imposing a fixed penalty on a convicted offender. It involves a consideration of various factors unique to an individual’s case. For this reason, working with an experienced attorney to the end of one’s case gives one the best opportunity for a favorable outcome.
One of the ways an attorney can help advocate in the sentencing phase is to ensure that the factors upon which the sentencing range is based are correctly calculated and considered. In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at the basics of the federal sentencing system and the importance of having an advocate in navigating the process.