As anyone who has had contact with the federal criminal justice system can attest, the sentences issued therein are little short of draconian. Fortunately, there exists several methods by which an individual can obtain a sentence reduction. Have you ever wondered how to get a sentence reduction? Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a reduced sentence is to cooperate with the government. If an individual assists the government in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense, said individual is eligible for a sentence reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1. The usefulness of the assistance provided will determine the level of the sentence reduction. Importantly, a sentence can be reduced under § 5K1.1 at any time, even after a defendant has already been sentenced. However, the motion must be filed by the government. A defendant, except in rare circumstances, will not receive relief under § 5K1.1 absent a government motion.
However, a defendant can still receive a reduced sentence based upon cooperation with the government, even absent a government motion, if such assistance is provided prior to sentencing. The defendant can raise his assistance as a factor to be considered in receiving a reasonable sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). As the United States Sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory, a defendant is free to raise any mitigating factor at sentencing that could lead to a reasonable sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553. Common mitigating factors include rehabilitation since incarceration, age at time of release, substance abuse difficulties, familial responsibilities, and a difficult childhood.
If an individual seeks a reduced sentence after being sentence, he can typically pursue several avenues. The first is to file a direct appeal, claiming that the sentence was issued in error. Issues raised in a direct appeal must be evident from the trial court record. Should an individual wish to raise an issue regarding a sentencing reduction that is not evident from the trial record, he can file a post-conviction motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Issues such as ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing, the issuance of new and favorable sentencing laws, or facts rising since sentencing can give rise to viable post-conviction claims. For example, if a defendant provides assistance to the government in the investigation or prosecution of a another individual, but the government fails to move for a reduced sentence under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1, the issue can be raised in a motion under § 2255.
A sentence can also be reduced if a Guideline utilized in calculating an individual’s sentence is later reduced. Title 18 U.S.C. § 3582 is a statute that provides an avenue for redress of sentencing errors in a federal court. A criminal defendant may move for a modification of sentence when he has been sentenced to a term of incarceration “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 994(o), upon motion of the defendant.” 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).