Monday, October 03, 2016

Mitigating-role amendment is retroactive

Today's decision in United States v. Carter recognizes the perhaps obvious fact that Amendment 794 applies retroactively because it is a "clarifying" as opposed to "substantive" amendment. Amendment 794 amends the commentary to U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2, the guideline that allows judges to reduce a defendant's base offense level if the defendant had a lesser role in his or her offense. The amendment requires judges to consider certain new factors regarding the individual's role. Such "commentary-only" amendments are almost always interpreted as "clarifying" and thus retroactive, and so it was here. The defendant had been sentenced before the amendment went into effect. However, because the defendant's sentence was not yet final, and because the court had not considered the factors added by Amendment 794, the Sixth Circuit remanded for resentencing.

The unsurprising holding regarding retroactivity in Carter is most relevant for what it does not stand for. Prison gossip has led many to believe that Amendment 794 would provide an avenue for early release from prison along the lines of Amendment 782 or the various "crack amendments." In fact, the retroactivity of this amendment will likely affect only those individuals whose sentences are not yet final. 

In any event, a good result in this case and for other defendants who may benefit.

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