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An overview of the factors the court considers in determining whether to reduce your prison sentence under the First Step Act.

The Law.

The First Step Act, signed into law in December 2018, provides that after an inmate can establish the existence of “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for a sentence reduction, the court must consider the relevant sentencing factors detailed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A-D) to determine whether that sentence reduction is warranted. Those factors are paraphrased here:

            A. The seriousness of the crime,

            B. The deterring effect of the prison time already served,

            C. Your potential danger to the public; and

            D. The extent that you have been rehabilitated while in prison.


What is the court looking for when applying these factors to me?

The critical question the court is looking to answer when applying the first factor (the seriousness of the crime) is whether the offense you were convicted up was violent or sexual in nature. It is not always obvious what qualifies as a “violent” crime, so be sure to consult with an attorney to answer that question for you in detail as it applies to your case.


For the second factor (the deterring effect of the prison time already served), the court is essentially looking to see how much of your sentence that you have served. More time is obviously going to look better than less here. Generally speaking, courts are looking to see that you have served at least half of your total sentence.


The third factor, whether you are a potential danger to the public, can be analyzed a variety of ways. Inmates will generally submit character letters, their lack of infractions while in prison, and any other character evidence to the court to suggest that they would not pose a danger to the public if they were released. Anyone can write a character letter for you; the more you can provide, the better. An attorney will be able to give you a clearer idea of what you can provide given the circumstances of your case to present yourself in the best possible light to the court.


Lastly, the court will look to see whether you have taken steps to rehabilitate yourself while in prison. This is pretty easy to do on your part. Virtually all prisons offer classes, work opportunities, and other programs to provide you with a wide variety of knowledge and skills; complete as many of these as you can. This will show the court that you have been sufficiently rehabilitated in prison and don’t need to be there anymore.