Does Pulsifer pulverize sentencing reform?

The Supreme Court made a decision in Pulsifer v. United States that significantly narrowed the reach of the “safety valve” provision, which allows for reduced sentences in federal drug offenses, undermining recent efforts by Congress to mitigate the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences. The majority’s interpretation, as described by Justice Elena Kagan, restricts the eligibility for the safety valve to a smaller set of defendants than what many believe Congress intended with the First Step Act. This ruling has been met with criticism for potentially increasing the federal prison population and exacerbating issues within the penal system.

In the attached article written for Westlaw, national Federal Sentencing experts Mark H. Allenbaugh of, Inc., and Alan Ellis, former President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL),  analyze and critique the Supreme Court’s decision for its departure from the legislative intent of the First Step Act.

As Mark Allenbaugh notes, “The Court’s eschewing of a plain reading of the statute in favor of a ‘context’ oriented one will now result in thousands of inmates spending many additional years behind bars.” Their analysis underscores the decision’s significant implications for sentencing reform and the broader justice system, calling attention to the need for further legislative action to realize the full potential of the First Step Act.

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