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Sentencing Guidelines for United States Courts

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United States Sentencing Commission.


Notice of finalized policy development agenda.


As part of its statutory authority and responsibility to analyze sentencing issues, including operation of the federal sentencing guidelines, and in accordance with Rule 5.2 of its Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Commission proposed, in December 1999, certain priorities as the focus of its policy development work, including amendments to guidelines, policy statements, and commentary, for the amendment cycle ending May 1, 2000. The Commission was reconstituted in November 1999, in the middle of that amendment cycle. Due to the resulting constraints of an abbreviated amendment cycle, the Commission has proposed as its priorities for the amendment cycle ending May 1, 2000 only those items the Commission might be able to conclude by its statutory deadline of May 1.

The Commission published a notice of these proposed priorities in the Federal Register on December 8, 1999. See 64 FR 68,715, Dec. 8 ,1999. After reviewing public comment received pursuant to this notice, the Commission has decided to limit its current policy development priorities principally to the following areas: (i) Implementation of legislative directives and other high priority crime legislation enacted by the 105th Congress for which guideline amendments were not developed or finalized by the previous Commission; and (ii) resolution of a limited number of high priority circuit conflicts in guideline interpretation, with the goal of enhancing the consistency with which the guidelines are applied.

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Michael Courlander, Public Affairs Officer, Telephone: (202) 502-4590.

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Priorities.”The specific policy development issues that comprise the Commission's finalized agenda are as follows—

I. Legislative Directives

The Commission has identified the implementation of the following directives as a priority for this amendment cycle:

(A) The No Electronic Theft (NET) Act of 1997—Congress directed the Commission, under emergency amendment authority, to ensure that: (1) The guideline penalties for intellectual property offenses are sufficiently stringent to deter those crimes; and (2) the guidelines pertaining to intellectual property offenses provide for consideration of the retail value and quantity of infringed items.

(B) The Telemarketing Fraud Prevention Act of 1998—Congress Start Printed Page 6435directed the Commission, under emergency authority, to provide: (1) Substantially increased penalties for persons convicted of telemarketing offenses; (2) an additional sentencing enhancement if the offense involved sophisticated means, including but not limited to sophisticated concealment efforts; and (3) an additional sentencing enhancement for cases in which a large number of vulnerable victims are affected by a fraudulent scheme or schemes. The Commission promulgated emergency amendments in September 1998 in response to this directive, but they must be re-promulgated in this amendment cycle to be made permanent.

(C) The Wireless Telephone Protection Act of 1998—Congress directed the Commission to review and, if appropriate, amend the guidelines to provide an appropriate penalty for offenses involving the fraudulent cloning of wireless telephones.

(D) The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998—Congress directed the Commission to review and, if appropriate, amend the guidelines to provide an appropriate penalty for each offense under 18 U.S.C. 1028 (fraud in connection with identification documents).

(E) The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998—Congress directed the Commission to: (1) Provide a sentencing enhancement for offenses relating to the transportation of individuals for illegal sexual activity; (2) provide a sentencing enhancement if the defendant used a computer in connection with a sexual offense against a minor; (3) provide a sentencing enhancement if the defendant knowingly misrepresented the defendant's identity in connection with a sexual offense against a minor; (4) increase the penalties in any case in which the defendant engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor; and (5) amend the guidelines to clarify that the term “distribution of pornography” in the guidelines relating to distribution of child pornography applies to distribution for monetary remuneration or for a non-pecuniary interest.

II. Other High Priority Crime Legislation

The Commission will consider amendments to the sentencing guidelines to implement the following additional high priority crime legislation:

(A) The Methamphetamine Trafficking Control Act of 1998—This Act does not contain a directive, but it increased the penalties for manufacturing, importing, or trafficking in methamphetamine by reducing by one-half the quantity of methamphetamine required to trigger the various mandatory minimum sentences in the drug statutes.

(B) Firearms Legislation—In Public Law 105-386, Congress amended 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) to: (1) Create a tiered system of sentencing enhancement ranges, each with a mandatory minimum and presumed life maximum, in cases in which a firearm is involved in a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense (the pertinent minimum sentence being dependent on whether the firearm was possessed, brandished, or discharged); (2) change the mandatory minimum for second or subsequent convictions under § 924(c) from 20 to 25 years; and (3) broadly define the term “brandish.”

In Public Law 105-277 (section 121 of the General Provisions), Congress amended 18 U.S.C. 922 to prohibit an alien who is lawfully present in the United States under a non-immigrant visa from possessing or otherwise being involved in a firearms offense.

III. Circuit Conflicts

As it has in the past, the Commission has also identified as a priority the resolution of a number of conflicts among the circuit courts on sentencing guideline issues. See Braxton v. United States, 500 U.S. 344 (1991). The Commission, working with the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference, the United States Department of Justice, and other interested participants in the federal criminal justice system, has identified the following circuit conflict issues as priorities for this amendment cycle:

(A) Whether for purposes of downward departure from the guideline range a “single act of aberrant behavior” (Chapter 1, Part A, § 4(d)) includes multiple acts occurring over a period of time. Compare United States v. Grandmaison, 77 F.3d 555 (1st Cir. 1996) (Sentencing Commission intended the word “single” to refer to the crime committed; therefore, “single acts of aberrant behavior” include multiple acts leading up to the commission of the crime; the district court should review the totality of circumstances); with United States v. Marcello, 13 F.3d 752 (3d Cir. 1994) (single act of aberrant behavior requires a spontaneous, thoughtless, single act involving lack of planning).

(B) Whether the enhanced penalties in § 2D1.2 (Drug Offenses Occurring Near Protected Locations or Involving Underage or Pregnant Individuals) apply only when the defendant is convicted of an offense referenced to that guideline or, alternatively, whenever the defendant's relevant conduct included drug sales in a protected location or involving a protected individual. Compare United States v. Chandler, 125 F.3d 892, 897-98 (5th Cir. 1997) (“First, utilizing the Statutory Index located in Appendix A, the court determines the offense guideline section ‘most applicable to the offense of conviction.’ ” Once the appropriate guideline is identified, a court can take relevant conduct into account only as it relates to factors set forth in that guideline); with United States v. Clay, 117 F.3d 317 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 395 (1997) (applying § 2D1.2 to defendant convicted only of possession with intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C. 841 (but not convicted of any statute referenced to § 2D1.2) based on underlying facts indicating defendant involved a juvenile in drug sales).

(C) Whether the fraud guideline enhancement for “violation of any judicial or administrative order, injunction, decree, or process” (§ 2F1.1(b)(4)(B)) applies to falsely completing bankruptcy schedules and forms. Compare United States v. Saacks, 131 F.3d 540 (5th Cir. 1997) (bankruptcy fraud implicates the violation of a judicial or administrative order or process within the meaning of § 2F1.1(b)(3)(B)); with United States v. Shadduck, 112 F.3d 523 (1st Cir. 1997) (falsely filling out bankruptcy forms does not violate judicial process since the debtor is not accorded a position of trust).

(D) Whether sentencing courts may consider post-conviction rehabilitation while in prison or on probation as a basis for downward departure at resentencing following an appeal. Compare United States v. Rhodes, 145 F.3d 1375, 1379 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (post-conviction rehabilitation is not a prohibited factor and, therefore, sentencing courts may consider it as a possible ground for downward departure at resentencing); with United States v. Sims, 174 F.3d 911 (8th Cir. 1999) (district court lacks authority at resentencing following an appeal to depart on ground of post-conviction rehabilitation which occurred after the original sentencing; refuses to extend holding regarding departures for post-offense rehabilitation to conduct that occurs in prison; departure based on post-conviction conduct infringes on statutory authority of the Bureau of Prisons to grant good-time credits.).

(E) Whether a court can base an upward departure on conduct that was dismissed or uncharged as part of a plea Start Printed Page 6436agreement in the case. Compare United States v. Figaro, 935 F.2d 4 (1st Cir. 1991) (allowing upward departure based on uncharged conduct) with United States v. Ruffin, 997 F.2d 343 (7th Cir. 1993) (error to depart based on counts dismissed as part of plea agreement).

IV. Technical and Conforming Amendments

The Commission expects to consider several minor technical or conforming amendments necessary for maintaining the technical accuracy Guidelines Manual.


Reports, proposed amendments, and other information pertaining to the final policy development priorities described in this notice may be accessed through the Commission's website at

The Commission received and considered public comment concerning other issues that the Commission should include in its priorities for this amendment cycle. The Commission may address these issues in the future.

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Authority: 28 U.S.C. 994(a), (o); USSC Rules of Practice and Procedure 5.2.

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Diana E. Murphy,


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[FR Doc. 00-2984 Filed 2-8-00; 8:45 am]