United States Sentencing Commission

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United States Sentencing Commission
Agency overview
Formed 1984
Jurisdiction United States Judiciary
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Employees 100
Agency executive
Website www.ussc.gov

The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency of the judicial branch of the federal government of the United States.[1] It is responsible for articulating the sentencing guidelines for the United States federal courts. The Commission promulgates the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which replaced the prior system of indeterminate sentencing that allowed trial judges to give sentences ranging from probation to the maximum statutory punishment for the offense. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The commission was created by the Sentencing Reform Act provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.[1] The constitutionality of the commission was challenged as a congressional encroachment on the power of the executive but upheld by the Supreme Court in Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 (1989).

Unlike many special-purpose "study" commissions within the executive branch, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was established by Congress as a permanent, independent agency within the judicial branch.[1] The seven voting members on the Commission are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and serve six-year terms.[1] Commission members may be reappointed to one additional term, also with the advice and consent of the Senate. At least three of the commissioners must be federal judges, and no more than four may belong to the same political party.[1] The United States Attorney General or his designee and the chair of the United States Parole Commission sit as ex officio, non-voting members of the Commission.[1]


On Friday January 25, 2013 the activist legion Anonymous hacked the USSC website in an operation titled "Operation Last Resort". The first, unsuccessful attack, was launched early Friday morning, followed by a second successful attack around 9pm PST the same day. By 3am PST the site was down and dropped from the DNS Domain Name System, yet the IP address ( still returned the defaced site's contents. Anonymous cited the recent death of hacktivist Aaron Swartz as a "line that has been crossed." The statement suggested murder for Swartz's, which many – including the family – believe was a result of overzealous prosecution by the Department of Justice and what the family deemed a "bullying" use of outdated computer crime laws.

It appears that via the U.S. government website, Anonymous had distributed encrypted government files and left a statement on the website that de-encryption keys would be publicly released (thus releasing the as yet unknown information held on the stolen files) if the U.S. government did not comply with Anonymous' demands for legal reform. Anonymous has not specified exactly what files they obtained. The various files were named after Supreme Court judges.

According to the statement:

"Warhead – U S – D O J – L E A – 2013 . A E E 256 is primed and armed. It has been quietly distributed to numerous mirrors over the last few days and is available for download from this website now. We encourage all Anonymous to syndicate this file as widely as possible."

This appeared to be Anonymous sending a threatening message to whoever knows what might be on the encrypted files. Anonymous encouraged anyone and everyone to distribute the files, so it was not unknown who had the files or how many had been distributed. The files are useless without the encryption keys.

The website is currently up and running without issue.

2015 actions

After a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma by President Barack H. Obama in July 2015,[2] the Commission issued new sentencing guidelines in October which lowered sentences for many drug offenders. That the commission made the changes retroactive is significant to white house goals, many offenders now serving time in prison and in halfway houses would qualify for an early release. All have served substantial prison time and the change would mean they would be subject to further judicial review of up to 6,000 cases and for some 1,000, ultimate deportation as they would be released to the custody of I.C.E.[3] Newspaper reports put the numbers of eventual release at much higher totals. The sentencing panel estimated that roughly 46,000 of 100,000 drug offenders in federal lockup would qualify for early release. The 6,000 to be released during November is the first batch in that process, as reported by the Washington Post.[4] Its change in guidelines represent a sea change in crime and punishment and could mean changes in state laws affecting drug sentencing.[5] Mandatory minimum sentences are statutory, so only Congress can reduce them. Lawmakers in the senate are currently pursuing a bi-partisan effort on a bill to do just that.[6]

Current membership

Member Occupation Date appointed Term expiration
William H. Pryor Jr.
(Acting Chair)
Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit January 3, 2017 October 31st, 2017
Rachel E. Barkow
Professor, New York University School of Law June 6, 2013 October 31, 2017
Charles R. Breyer
(Vice Chair)
Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of California March 21, 2017 October 31, 2021
Danny C. Reeves
Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky March 21, 2017 October 31, 2019
J. Patricia Wilson Smoot
(Ex officio) (non-voting)
Chair, United States Parole Commission —— ——
Zachary Bolitho
(Ex officio) (non-voting) (Attorney General's designee)
Deputy Chief of Staff and Associate Deputy Attorney General to the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, U.S. Department of Justice —— ——

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "An Overview of the United States Sentencing Commission" (PDF). United States Sentencing Commission. United States Sentencing Commission. Archived from the original on 12 August 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  2. ^ "Obama Visits Federal Prison, A First For A Sitting President". 
  3. ^ "U.S. to release 6,000 federal inmates as part of prison reform". 6 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "U.S. to release 6,000 federal prisoners - Washington Post". 
  5. ^ "The US Is Going to Let Nearly 6,000 Drug Offenders Out of Federal Prison Early - VICE News". 
  6. ^ Project, The Marshall (7 October 2015). "What You Need To Know About The New Federal Prisoner Release" – via Huff Post. 

External links

  • United States Sentencing Commission
  • United States Sentencing Commission in the Federal Register
  • Interviews with first four Commission Chairs
  • From the Hill to the Court to the Commission (Interview with Commission Chair Patti Saris, The Third Branch Sept. 2011)
  • Significant Dates and Decisions in the History of the Sentencing Guidelines
  • Anonymous hacks US Sentencing Commission, distributes files
  • Records of the United States Sentencing Commission in the National Archives (Record Group 539)
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