This guide addresses ways of lowering a defendant's sentencing range in federal drug cases and money laundering cases. If a defendant can qualify for these reductions, he can dramatically reduce his sentence and potentially find himself in a better position than if he was facing state charges.
Drug and Money Laundering Guidelines
Drug guidelines are generally determined by the quantity of the drug or drugs at issue. When money laundering is based on drug activity, that guideline will also be determined by drug quantity. When certain drug thresholds are reached, a mandatory minimum may apply upon conviction for the offense. In that case, the individual can generally only obtain a sentence under the guideline when he cooperates and receives a 5K.1 or a Rule 35, or if he receives the safety valve. If neither of these apply, the individual cannot obtain a sentence less than the mandatory minimum even if his guideline range falls below the mandatory minimum. In those cases, a role reduction or variance may be worthless. There are also situations where prior drug convictions or firearms can dramatically increase those sentences. However, there are many reductions that can be used in a defendant's favor to obtain incredible sentence reductions.
The safety valve should be common knowledge among most federal criminal attorneys. The safety valve allows an individual to obtain a 2-level reduction in their guideline level and a sentence below the statutory mandatory minimum for the offense. To receive the safety valve, an individual must accept responsibility for his offense, must have less than 2 criminal history points, must not have used a firearm or violence during the commission of the offense, must not have been a leader or organizer, and, prior to sentencing, the individual must truthfully provide to the prosecution all information they have concerning the offense. This can be in writing. The safety valve is located at 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), or Section 5C1.2 of the guidelines.
Role Reductions and Super Reductions
Role reductions and super reductions are frequently overlooked by attorneys and probation, even though they can be of incredible benefit to defendants. In cases where these reductions can apply, an attorney should do everything they possibly can to negotiate these into any plea agreement. Standard role reductions are located in Section 3B1.2(a) of the sentencing guidelines. They provide for reductions of 1 to 4 levels depewhen a defendant had a minor role in the commission of an offense. If a defendant can qualify for these reductions, he can qualify for additional super reductions: Under Section 2B1.1(b)(15) of the guidelines provides for an additional 2 level reduction, if a defendant qualifies as a minimal participant, and: 1) he was motivated by an intimate or family relationship or out of fear to commit the offense, 2) he received no monetary compensation from the deal, and 3) he had minimal knowledge of the scope of the operation.
Super Reductions continued
Section 2B1.1(a)(5) provides for further super reductions when a defendant receives an adjustment for mitigating role. If the defendant receives a mitigating role reduction, and the base offense level is level 32, an additional 2 level reduction is proper, when the offense level is 34 or 36, the defendant should receive a 3 level reduction, and when the offense is level 38, a 4 level reduction is proper. If the offense is greater than 32, and the defendant receives a 4 level minimal participation reduction, the offense level should drop to level 32. To give an example, a defendant arrested with 15 kilograms of cocaine would start out at level 32 of the sentencing guidelines. If he qualifies for acceptance of responsibility, safety valve, minimal participant, and both super-reductions, he can drop from level 32 to level 19, a 13 level reduction and a 90 month swing!
Since the passage of Booker, Gall, and that line of cases, Courts are required to consider the sentencing guidelines as advisory. Once the Court determines the proper guideline range, the Court should conduct an individualized assessment of the case based on the facts presented. The Court should impose a sentence that is sufficient but not greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of sentencing. Therefore, defendants can present arguments to the Court regarding their individual circumstances, to show why a lesser sentence is appropriate. These are known as variances and provide another avenue for reduced sentences.