The U.S. Sentencing Commission has published the official text of the 2018 amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which go into effect on November 1, 2018.
Among the 2018 amendments is an “Alternatives to Incarceration for Nonviolent First Offenders” amendment, which adds a new application note to the Commentary at §5C1.1 (Imposition of a Term of Imprisonment), stating that if a defendant is a “nonviolent first offender and the applicable guideline range is in Zone A or B of the Sentencing Table, the court should consider imposing a sentence other than a sentence of imprisonment.”
Where permitted by statute, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual provides for non-incarceration sentences for offenders in Zones A and B of the Sentencing Table. Zone A (in which all sentencing ranges are zero to six months regardless of criminal history category) permits the full spectrum of sentencing options: (1) a fine only; (2) a term of probation only; (3) probation with conditions of confinement (home detention, community confinement, or intermittent confinement); (4) a “split sentence” (a term of imprisonment followed by a term of supervised release with condition of confinement that substitutes for a portion of the guideline term); or (5) a term of imprisonment only. Zone B (which includes sentencing ranges that have a low-end of one month and a high-end of 15 months, and vary by criminal history category) also authorizes non-prison sentences. However, Zone B sentencing options are more restrictive, authorizing (1) probation with conditions of confinement; (2) a “split sentence”; or (3) a term of imprisonment only. The amendment is intended to serve as a reminder to courts to consider imposing non-incarceration sentences for a defined class of “nonviolent first offenders” whose applicable guideline ranges are in Zones A or B of the Sentencing Table.
For purposes of the new application note, the amendment defines a “nonviolent first offender” as a defendant who (1) has no prior convictions or other comparable judicial dispositions of any kind; and (2) did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon in connection with the offense. It explains that “comparable judicial dispositions of any kind” includes “diversionary or deferred dispositions resulting from a finding or admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere and juvenile adjudications.”
The amendment also deletes language from the commentary to §5F1.2 (Home Detention) that generally encouraged courts to use electronic monitoring (also called location monitoring) when home detention is made a condition of supervision, and instead instructs that electronic monitoring or any alternative means of surveillance may each be used, as “appropriate.” The goal of this change is to increase the use of probation with home detention as an alternative to incarceration. The Commission found that for many low-risk offenders, less intensive surveillance methods (e.g., telephonic contact, video conference, unannounced home visits by probation officers) are sufficient to enforce home detention. The revised language would allow probation officers and courts to exercise discretion to use surveillance methods that they deem appropriate in light of evidence-based practices.