Can I Qualify for a Safety Valve in My Federal Case?

Defendants may avoid federal mandatory minimums through the application of a safety valve pursuant to Rule #2 of the federal sentencing guidelines. There are five pre-requisites to applicability of the sentencing guidelines. Contact an aggressive criminal defense attorney to see if you qualify.

There has been substantial press in recent months regarding reforming federal mandatory minimums for drug charges. Many, if not most, federal drug offenses involve mandatory minimum terms based upon drug weights and other factors. These mandatory minimums are often 5 years, 10 years, or in some cases much more. These minimum terms are the subject of heated debate in and out of legal circles, and many rational stakeholders in the judicial process blame our skyrocketing prison population on the proliferation of mandatory minimums in sentencing. However, until there is meaningful change to the current system, mandatory minimums are an unavoidable facet of federal drug charges.

There can be relief even now though in terms of mandatory minimums, at least for some defendants. There are two ways in which a defendant can be sentenced below mandatory minimum terms. One is through "substantial assistance" to the government in the investigation and prosecution of other cases through Rule 5K1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines. Such consideration is exceedingly rare, and the reality is that the vast majority of federal defendants provide some cooperation to the government as a consequence of their plea agreement, yet most will never benefit from a Rule 5K1.1 motion in their case.

The other way to secure a departure from the Draconian federal mandatory minimums is through the "safety valve" provision outlined in Rule 5C1.2 of the guidelines. This rule allows a sentencing judge to ignore mandatory minimums where the guidelines call for a lower sentence as long as certain conditions are met.

First, the defendant must have little to no criminal history. Specifically, the criminal history must be Category I, the lowest category possible. This factor alone disqualifies most federal defendants in drug conspiracy cases.

Second, the defendant must not have used violence or credible threats of violence or have possessed a firearm or other dangerous weapon in connection with the offense.

Third, the offense must not have resulted in the death or serious injury of another.

Fourth, the defendant must not have been the organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others involved in the offense.

Fifth and finally, the defendant must provide the government complete and truthful information regarding his knowledge of the offense. This is probably the most difficult and treacherous portion of the safety valve process because it involves a debrief with federal agents wherein the defendant seeks to qualify for safety valve consideration. The pitfalls, however, are tremendous. It is not uncommon for the government to argue that not only does the defendant not deserve safety valve consideration, but instead that they ought to be penalized through obstruction of justice points in the sentencing guidelines based upon what the government sees as untruthful information in the debrief. An experienced criminal defense attorney will assist a defendant in navigating this treacherous process to ensure safety valve consideration.

Ultimately, any defendant facing federal drug charges is in a precarious position. Mandatory minimums and the sentencing guidelines make federal drug charges fare more serious than those in state court. Few attorneys practice federal criminal defense, and even fewer do so with good results. If you or someone you love is facing federal charges contact our office right away. We provide experienced representation for criminal defendants in federal courts throughout Virginia.