Earlier this week, the United States Sentencing Commission released its annual Overview of Federal Criminal Cases. This year’s report highlighted several significant numbers, including:
- A 16% decrease in sentenced defendants
- A 14% increase in sentence modifications, including resentencing
- 1,1662 compassionate release motions granted
The Commission explained that the dramatic shift in numbers is due, in part, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After all, the novel coronavirus’ impact on the legal system is profound: federal courts across the country issued standing orders restricting access to courts, suspending in-person oral arguments, and postpone jury trials. Similarly, earlier this year, the Department of Justice issued a memo, Protecting the Federal Workforce and Additional Guidance Regarding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), restricting in-person access to federal buildings: “All on-duty or on-site Federal employees; on-site Federal contractors; and all persons in Federal buildings… must” wear masks, maintain social distance, and “[c]onduct meeting virtually where possible.”
However, many of these restrictions are expected to relax or go away completely as the United States’ vaccinated population continues to rise. Consequently, sentencing of federal defendants will presumably increase whereas the number of people granted compassionate release will decline.