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Federal Drug Cases and Safety Valve Sentence Reductions

Many times people who are involved in a federal drug case of have a loved on who is facing federal drug charges hear he/she might be "safety valve eligible" but do not know what this means. The federal sentencing guidelines are now only advisory and not mandatory for judges who are faced with developing a sentence for someone.

However, federal law requires a judge consider what the guideline calculation is for someone and for many judges the guidelines prove to be an easy place to rest upon when fashioning a sentence. The easiest place to begin to decide whether this applies in a case is the actual guideline.

Section 5C1.2 Safety Valve

(a) A defendant may be sentenced below a statutory mandatory minimum sentence if the following criteria are met:

1.The defendant does not have more than one criminal history point.

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.

5.The defendant has truthfully debriefed.

Safety Valve Analysis

The safety valve provision in the guidelines allows for a two-point reduction, as well as a sentence below the statutory mandatory minimum. United States v. Reid, 139 F.3d 1367 (11th Cir. 1998).

The decision in Booker does not affect a defendant's initial eligibility for safety valve relief. United States v. Brehm, 442 F.3d 1291, 1299 (11th Cir. 2006). Thus, if the defendant has more than one criminal history point, he is ineligible for the safety valve and the court may not go below a mandatory minimum on this basis.

A defendant must provide a truthful statement about his involvement in the offense to qualify for safety valve. United States v. Acosta, 287 F.3d 1034 (11th Cir. 2002). The District Court, not the government, must decide if a defendant has been truthful. United States v. Espinosa, 172 F.3d 795 (11th Cir. 1999).

There is only one time limit for safety valve and that is the date of his sentencing. If a defendant initially is untruthful but later provides full and truthful information prior to his sentencing, he is entitled to safety valve. In certain circumstances, it is even appropriate for a court to continue a sentencing date in order to facilitate the defendant's safety valve debriefing. United States v. Garcia, 405 F.3d 1260 (11th Cir. 2005).

One may earn a reduction pursuant to acceptance of responsibility and not earn a reduction pursuant to safety valve, as safety valve has more extensive debriefing requirements while acceptance of responsibility requires only a timely notice of pleading guilty. United States v. Yate, 176 F.3d 1309 (11th Cir. 1999).

A person cannot possess a firearm or induce another to possess a firearm and qualify for safety valve

Some defendants do not want to cooperate with federal prosecutions of other people. Such cooperation normally involves testifying before a Grand Jury, at a trial or other proceeding. It can expose a defendant to some risks which many are not willing to take on. There is no requirement for safety valve application that cooperation follow a truthful debriefing. While the reduction in sentence may not be as significant as for one who cooperates, it does permit someone to gain further reduction and possibly a sentence below the statutory minimum sentence.

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