Sentencing Commission Issues Proposed Amendments to Guidelines Relating to Corporations, Individuals; Increases Potential for Probationary Sentences; New Probation Options in Drug Cases; Hate Crimes Enhancement

Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued its 2010 Proposed Amendments to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which may be viewed here, which contain much of interest for both corporate and individual defendants.

In regard to corporations or “organizational" defendants, the Commission has proposed several changes to Chapter Eight of the Guidelines. The Proposed Amendments amend Guideline Section §8B2.1, governing compliance and ethics programs for corporations, by adding language in the Application Notes regarding personnel who must be aware of an organization’s document retention policies and conform to such policies and setting forth “reasonable steps that an organization should take after detection of criminal conduct.” The steps are:

First, the organization should respond appropriately to the criminal conduct. In the event the criminal conduct has an identifiable victim or victims the organization should take reasonable steps to provide restitution and otherwise remedy the harm resulting from the criminal conduct. Other appropriate responses may include self-reporting, cooperation with authorities, and other forms of remediation. Second, to prevent further similar criminal conduct, the organization should assess the compliance and ethics program and make modifications necessary to ensure the program is more effective. The organization may take the additional step of retaining an independent monitor to ensure adequate assessment and implementation of the modifications.

Section 8D1.4, governing conditions for probation for corporations or organizations, is also amended to provide, as conditions of probation, that an organization develop and submit a compliance and ethics program and retain an independent monitor. The amendment further provides that organizations must disclose any material adverse changes in its business or financial condition or prosepects, and any new criminal prosecutions, civil litigation, administrative proceedings, investigations or formal inquiries commenced against the organization.

Last September, the Commission had stated that one of its policy priorities would be to study alternatives to incarceration. Accordingly, the Proposed Amendments increase “Zone B” and “Zone C” of the Guidelines’ Sentencing Table by one level. Defendants with Guidelines calculations falling within Zone B are eligible, instead of a sentence of imprisonment, to have imposed “a sentence of probation that includes a condition or combination of conditions that substitute intermittent confinement, community confinement, or home detention for imprisonment…” pursuant to Section §5C1.1(b)(3).

The Commission has sought comments on its Proposed Amendments. It has also sought comments on potential revisions to certain specific offender characteristics as a basis for downward departure in sentence pursuant to the policy statements in Chapter 5 of the Guidelines, including age; mental and emotional condition; physical condition; military, civic, charitable, or public service, employment-related contributions and record of prior good works; and lack of guidance as a youth. The Commission has stated that it has considered eliminating these statements pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker, which mandated that sentencing courts consider a defendant’s “history and characteristics” pursuant to Section 3553(a) in fashioning a reasonable sentence. Under the “old” Guidelines system, such factors were either prohibited or discouraged grounds for a downward departure in sentence.

The Proposed Amendments also take into account the Supreme Court’s landmark holding in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) that the Guidelines are advisory, rather than mandatory, by amending the instructions on applying the Guidelines in Section 1B1.1 to provide that, after a sentencing court has determined the proper sentencing range under the Guidelines and considered the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), “[t]he court shall then determine the sentence (i.e., a sentence within the guideline range, a departure, or a variance), considering the applicable factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) taken as a whole.”

The Proposed Amendments expand courts’ authority to impose probation as an alternative to incarceration in certain drug cases in a new proposed Guideline Section 5C1.3 provided that the defendant participates in a substance abuse treatment program and meets certain additional criteria. The Amendments furthermore suggest changes to determining a defendant’s criminal history in terms of the recency of prior offenses. Finally, the Proposed Amendments also recommend so-called “hate crimes” enhancements under Section 3A1.1 which provide for an increase of 3 or more levels to a defendant’s offense level where “the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property as the object of the offense of conviction because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation of any person…”

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Ross Marrazzo - February 7, 2010 8:16 AM

While there is no reference or requirement within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to have a forward-looking annual compliance plan on the compliance department's strategy for the coming year or two (e.g., resources, new products, new laws, regulatory landscape), are there any references out there that would suggest this is required elsewhere or is best practice, or such a plan was used to mitigate a sentence? In my experience with bank regulators, they like to see this.

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