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“The New Federal Safety Valve” More Relief From Harsh Federal Drug Sentences

Posted by Russell Babcock | Dec 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

Federal drug cases carry severe mandatory minimum penalties. What a mandatory sentence means is that a judge must sentence an offender to at least the minimum sentence.  The most common minimum sentence is ten-years imprisonment and it is prescribed for many federal drug smuggling offenses.  The most common federal crimes in San Diego and El Centro are drug smuggling of fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin from Tijuana or Mexicali into the United States.  It does not make a difference if the individual did not know the quantity or type of drug they were smuggling so long as they knew they were importing a prohibited drug into the United States. The mandatory ten-year penalties attach as follows under the United States Sentencing Guidelines,  21 U.S.C. § 841:

5 kilograms or more: 10 years to life

Methamphetamine: 50 grams or more, or 500 grams or more of a mixture: 10 years to life
Heroin: 1 kilo or more, ten years to life.  

With fentanyl this sentence varies more but 5 years to 10 years is common .

(For more information about the injustice of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, go to the website for “Families Against Mandatory Minimums” (Famm), 

 The old Safety Valve provision found in 5C.2 of the Sentencing Guidelines disqualifies from safety valve consideration many individuals who have a previous criminal record for a relatively minor criminal offense,such as a Driving While Intoxicated offense (DUI) who commit their drug offense while on probation.  But the new “First Step Act”, P.I. 115-391 greatly expands the safety valve provisions to allow many individuals, who have a substantial prior criminal record, to qualify for the important relief from the mandatory sentence.  The interplay between the old and new safety valve is complex, and if you or a loved one are charged with a serious drug offense, you should hire a criminal defense attorney who has specific knowledge about the safety valve laws.   

In the federal system, there is no parole.  While there are some additional reductions of sentence for someone who participates in a custodial drug program (RDAP) the only ways a court can break the mandatory minimum barrier is through cooperation (section 5K1 providing substantial assistance to the government) or the Safety Valve. In this blog I will discuss both the old and the new safety valve. 

It is generally safe to engage in a safety valve debrief. Many inmates mistakenly believe that safety valve de-briefing is “snitching” or “informing.”  De-briefing rarely results in any new arrests but only serves to inform the government of what really occurred in the offense and also serves as kind of a penance for an individual charged with the drug crime being completely honest with the prosecutor about what really occurred.  An experienced criminal law attorney can inform you whether you are eligible for Safety Valve and help you make the decision whether you wish to do it. 

You need a very skilled federal criminal defense attorney to help navigate the pitfalls of Safety Valve. In the Law Office of Russell Babcock, we have been helping clients for more than two decades achieve Safety Valve in even the most difficult drug cases. Recently, the government wished to give a client of mine, J.G., 120 months (the mandatory minimum sentence) because they did not believe he was safety valve eligible.  But after continuing to fight the case and file the appropriate paperwork, we achieved a sentence where he will be reunited with his family in less than two years. 

 Call us for more information and your free consultation.  We will keep you or your loved one safe with Safety Valve.

About the Author

Russell Babcock

Conozca a russell Russell S. Babcock (Founder + Owner) Spanish Speaking Criminal Defense Attorney  (Federal and State Court) The law firm of Russell S. Babcock was formed to provide the highest quality of federal and state criminal defense services at reasonable prices. We are a full service c...


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