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What are the Five Safety Valves in Federal Sentencing for Drug Cases?


There are literally hundreds of federal offenses that are punishable by a mandatory minimum term of incarceration under sentencing guidelines, which generally means that a judge has no discretion to reduce a prison term. However, you might be surprised to learn the proportion of cases involving drug crimes. According to the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) Quick Facts on Mandatory Minimum Penalties, of all cases carrying mandatory minimums, 72.7 percent are drug offenses.

If you have been arrested under such circumstances, there is good news: In over 44 percent of these cases, the defendant was able to obtain relief from mandatory minimum sentencing. Many individuals relied on the so-called “safety valves” created by federal law, which permits a judge to apply discretion under certain circumstances. You could qualify for reduced penalties, so it is worthwhile to discuss your options with a federal drug crimes defense attorney in South Florida. Some background information may also be useful.

Overview of the 5 Safety Valves: The relevant federal drug laws and sentencing guidelines are intended to alleviate the mandatory nature of punishment, allowing a judge to take into account the unique circumstances of the defendant and the crime. The court can disregard the mandatory minimum in the presence of certain factors, including: 

  1. Criminal History: You cannot have a prior 3-point offense, a prior 2-point violent offense, or a total of 4 points in your criminal history. These values are measured by sentencing guidelines that would have applied in a previous criminal case.
  2. Lack of Violence: If you did not use violence or credible violent threats, and did not possess a gun or dangerous weapon in commission of the drug crime, you may meet this criteria.
  3. No Casualties: You will not qualify for the 5 safety valves if you caused serious bodily harm or death to a victim in connection with the drug offense. Keep in mind that the actions of others involved with the crime are imputed to you, so it is irrelevant if you were the one who perpetrated the harm.
  4. Your Role in the Drug Crime: If you were an organizer, leader, or took on a managing role in the offense, you will not be eligible for a departure from mandatory minimum sentencing. This factor focuses on combatting drug crimes that are part of an ongoing scheme or enterprise.
  5. Cooperation with Law Enforcement: Under the safety valve requirements, you must also provide to officials all details within your knowledge or possession concerning the drug crime. When the offense encompasses a common scheme or plan, you are required to divulge this information to avoid mandatory minimums.

A Florida Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer Can Guide You Through the Process 

The safety valves and other forms of relief may help you avoid mandatory minimum sentencing if you are convicted of a gun offense, but you will need experienced legal representation throughout the criminal process. For more information, please contact the offices of Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Kevin J. Kulik. We can schedule a consultation to assess your situation and advise you on defense options.





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