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A look at recent trends in federal drug crimes

Federal criminal cases kept the authorities busy in 2019, with over 76,000 cases resulting in sentencing. While immigration cases accounted for a large number of arrests, drug crimes also were prevalent.

Here is a look at some of the numbers from fiscal year 2019, as well as a review of sentencing reform.

A look at federal drug crimes

According to an overview of federal crimes published by the United States Sentencing Commission in 2020, federal drug crimes for possession of illegal drugs declined while drug trafficking cases increased slightly. Drug crimes accounted for over 26% of federal offenders in 2019. The USSC recorded just over 20,000 drug cases, an increase of 863 cases from the previous year.

Men committed the majority of federal crimes in 2019, and while this was true of drug crimes, women also received a high number of arrests for drug trafficking. Drug trafficking cases most often involved methamphetamines at just over 42%, followed by cocaine cases at just over 25%. Methamphetamine cases continue to increase, a trend that began in 1994, while crack cocaine cases continue a decline that began in 2008.

A look at drug crime sentencing

The Federal Bureau of Prisons provides an overview of the First Step Act of 2018, which among other things sought to look at the effectiveness of federal drug sentencing. The FSA modified some of the sentencing requirements for drug offenses. It made the following changes to some mandatory minimum sentencing laws:

  • Increased the threshold for prior convictions
  • Reduced the frequency of mandatory life sentencing requirements
  • Enacted retroactive sentencing in some cases

The FSA, designed in part to reduce the federal prison population, also enacted the so-called safety valve provision. This allowed the courts the leeway to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders.


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