Judicial Authority under the First Step Act What Congress Conferred through Section 404
46 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 1, 2020
The First Step Act of 2018 promised relief to inmates serving disproportionately long sentences for cocaine base distribution. Section 404, the focus of this article, seemed straight-forward. But in the spring and summer of 2019, district judges began reviewing § 404 cases and reaching dissonant results. Appeals followed, focused on four questions of judicial authority: (1) Who may judges resentence?; (2) May judges engage in plenary resentencing or merely sentence reduction?; (3) May judges resentence all concurrent criminal convictions or only crack cocaine convictions?; and (4) Must judges adopt the operative drug quantity from the original sentencing? Today, the law of § 404 remains incomplete in every circuit. This article reviews the legislative history, text, and legal context of § 404. It finds that Congress intended broad judicial authority in § 404 resentencings.
Keywords: criminal justice reform, sentencing, First Step Act, judicial authority
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