(courtesy photo)
(courtesy photo)

The United States Sentencing Commission (“Commission”) unanimously approved its priorities recently, for the coming year.

This year, the Commission will continue its in-depth study of the current advisory guidelines structure. For more than a decade, the Commission has studied the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker, which rendered the federal sentencing guidelines advisory. Over the next year, the Commission will examine additional ways to update, simplify, and clarify the federal sentencing guidelines, consistent with the goals set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

Chief Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair of the Commission, said, “Next year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Sentencing Guidelines.  The Commission will begin a comprehensive examination of how the current federal sentencing scheme could be simplified to better promote fairness and proportionality, reduce disparity, and maintain judicial flexibility.”

The Commission will also continue efforts to improve the application of the sentencing guidelines to federal offenses occurring on tribal lands.  In May 2016, the Commission’s Tribal Issues Advisory Group (TIAG) issued a report which provided several noteworthy recommendations, such as those relating to the treatment of tribal court convictions within the context of the federal sentencing guidelines.  The TIAG also noted disproportionally high rates of incarceration for young Native American offenders in the federal system.  Acting immediately upon one of the TIAG’s recommendations, the Commission will form a standing Tribal Issues Advisory Group for continued study and focus on these issues.

The Commission will continue its work across a broad range of issues arising in the federal sentencing guidelines, including the study of the treatment of youthful offenders in the federal system as well as the offense levels associated with the illegal substances including MDMA/Ecstasy, synthetic cannabinoids (such as JWH-018 and AM-2201), and synthetic cathinones (such as Methylone, MDPV, and Mephedrone).  In addition, the Commission will examine the implementation of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, along with other miscellaneous issues.

Finally, the Commission will study the nature and impact of a defendant’s prior criminal history on recidivism along with the relevant statutory and guideline provisions.  The Commission will also continue the recent work related to the first report on Recidivism Among Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview and the Commission’s Report to the Congress: Career Offender Enhancements released last month.

At the meeting, the Commission also voted to revise its Rules of Practice and Procedure. The revised rules and list of final priorities will be available online at the Commission’s website at www.ussc.gov.