FEDERAL FIRST STEP ACT INFORMATION
The First Step Act of 2018 became law when President Trump signed it on December 21, 2018. The First Step Act reduces and restricts enhanced sentencing for prior drug felonies, broadens the existing federal sentencing safety valve, clarifies 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(C), and retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 as discussed below.
FIRST STEP ACT DEFINES "SERIOUS FELONY" AND NEW MANDATORY MINIMUMS
The First Step Act adds the terms “serious drug felony” and “serious violent felony” to the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 802. A defendant’s prior conviction for a “serious drug felony” or “serious violent felony” must have resulted in a sentence of 12 or more months in prison before it counts as a prior conviction for enhancement purposes. Moreover, a prior conviction more than 15 years before a defendant’s current offense can no longer be used to enhance his or her sentence. The new mandatory minimums for defendants with one prior “serious drug felony” or “serious violent felony” is now 15 years. For defendants with two or more prior convictions, the new mandatory minimum is 25 years.
FIRST STEP ACT ALLOWS JUDGES TO SENTENCE BELOW MANDATORY MINIMUMS
The First Step Act broadens the federal sentencing safety valve found at 18 U.S.C. § 3553. It is called the safety valve because it permits a court to sentence some nonviolent drug offenders with no prior criminal history to sentences below the applicable mandatory minimums. The safety valve previously applied only to defendants with no more than 1 criminal history point under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Now, the safety valve applies to defendants who have no more than 4 total criminal history points, no prior 3 point offenses and no prior 2 point offenses.
FIRST STEP ACT CLARIFIES WHEN ENHANCED PENALTIES FOR USING A GUN APPLY
The First Step Act clarifies 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(C). Enhanced penalties for using a gun during certain crimes based on a defendant’s prior convictions only apply when the prior conviction was already final at the time of the current offense.
FIRST ACT RETROACTIVELY APPLIES THE FAIR SENTENCING ACT OF 2010
The First Step Act retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The Fair Sentencing Act eliminated the sentencing disparity between defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses and powder cocaine offenses. Defendants currently serving time on crack cocaine offenses who were not granted relief by the Fair Sentencing Act may file a motion to reduce their sentences.
Like most federal criminal statutes, the First Step Act can be difficult to interpret. Lisa is on top of the First Step Act and will interpret it for you to see if the First Step Act can help you or a loved one. For a free consultation, call LisaLaw, LLC or fill out the on-line form for a free case review.
Lisa Witt is a Mesa/Phoenix, Arizona First Step Act attorney serving clients in the East Valley, West Valley, Maricopa County, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Fountain Hills, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Tucson, Queen Creek, Gilbert, Casa Grande, Surprise, Goodyear, Buckeye, Youngtown, Ahwatukee, Avondale, Tolleson.