Fighting the Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines

Federal Safety Valve Eligibility 18 USC 3553

Welcome to the Pariente Law Firm P.C. with John G Walkins of counsel. My name is Michael Pariente, and I am a criminal defense lawyer here in Las Vegas. I have been practicing law for over 17 years and have significant experience in the Federal Court System. I used to be a federal public defender, and I have represented well over 600 people in federal cases alone.

I want to talk about something critical to the federal sentencing guidelines called “Safety Valve Eligibility” under 18 USC 3553 Section F. Let’s say that you’re caught trafficking drugs and the quantity of those drugs puts you at a minimum of five or ten years in prison. Under normal circumstances, you’re not eligible to get less than what’s called the mandatory minimum. That means the judge cannot give you less time in prison when sentenced.

However, only in these type of drug cases, you can qualify for something called “safety valve eligibility”. That means if you don’t have anything more than one criminal history point, didn’t use a firearm, didn’t threaten or use violence against someone, there’s no bodily injury, you were not what’s called a “leader / manager / supervisor or organizer” in this narrow situation, and if the government believes that you’ve been entirely truthful in debriefing, then the judge has the power to sentence you to less than the mandatory minimum. As I said, this is a litany of things someone didn’t do when arrested on federal drug charges but is much better than 20 years of confinement.

The Federal Safety Valve Eligibility 18 USC 3553 Section F code reads as follows:

Limitation on Applicability of Statutory Minimums in Certain Cases. — Notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the case of an offense under section 401, 404, or 406 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841, 844, 846) or section 1010 or 1013 of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960, 963), the court shall impose a sentence pursuant to guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission under section 994 of title 28 without regard to any statutory minimum sentence, if the court finds at sentencing, after the Government has been afforded the opportunity to make a recommendation, that — 
 (1) the defendant does not have more than 1 criminal history point, as determined under the sentencing guidelines;
 (2) the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense;
 (3) the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person;
 (4) the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined in section 408 of the Controlled Substances Act; and
 (5) not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Government is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement. — 
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/3553

That’s critical because if you can’t get under the mandatory minimum, you could be looking at 5 to 10 years in prison depending upon your crime, or possibly more. The parole eligibility in federal crimes is much more strict. There is no reduced time for good behavior while in federal confinement. However, there are rare conditions where you can be paroled for exemplary behavior for getting something like a high school diploma, but in general, if you wind up in the Federal prison system you can expect to do over 80% of your time or possibly more. In this respect, it is much different than the State’s “revolving door” system where people are released from prison and on to parole or probation in Nevada because of overcrowding or other matters. Also, it is worth noting that the “Club Fed” myth of Federal prison being “easier” is 100% incorrect. Imprisonment under the federal system is a very severe punishment and doesn’t differ much from being incarcerated in the State Penitentiary.

Anything is possible if you don’t receive the mandatory minimum, this is very important. If you’re being charged with a federal drug crime, give me a call. I’m more than happy to meet with you in person in my office here at the Howard Hughes center. If you are out of state, let’s talk over the phone about what I can do to help you.

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Originally published at parientelaw.com on March 16, 2016.