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entitled 'Federal Drug Offenses: Departures from Sentencing Guidelines 
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Report to Congressional Requesters:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

October 2003:

Federal Drug Offenses:

Departures from Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences, 
Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

GAO-04-105:

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-04-105, a report to congressional requesters 

Why GAO Did This Study:

Created in 1984, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) was 
charged with developing the federal sentencing guidelines to limit 
disparities in sentencing among offenders with similar criminal 
backgrounds found guilty of similar crimes. Judges determine a 
specific sentence based on an applicable sentencing guideline range, 
such as 57 to 71 months, provided in the guidelines. Judges may impose 
sentences that fall anywhere within the range, above it (upward 
departures), or below it (downward departures). For some offenses, 
Congress established mandatory minimum sentences. Judges may also 
sentence below the minimum in certain circumstances. 

We examined the differences in drug offense departures from sentencing 
guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences among federal courts and 
the documents the USSC used to record and analyze sentences.

What GAO Found:

Generally, downward departures are defined as (1) substantial 
assistance departures, made at the prosecutor’s request because the 
offender provided substantial assistance to the government; and (2) 
other downward departures made for other reasons, such as a plea 
agreement, a judge’s consideration of mitigating factors, or early 
disposition, i.e., “fast track” programs initiated by prosecutors for 
low-level drug trafficking offenses. 

Of federal sentences for drug-related offenses in fiscal years 1999-
2001, the majority (56 percent) was within applicable guideline 
ranges. Downward sentencing departures were more frequently due to 
prosecutors’ substantial assistance motions (28 percent) than for any 
other reasons (16 percent).

For federal drug sentences that carried a mandatory minimum term of 
imprisonment, more than half of the drug sentences imposed fell below 
a mandatory minimum. Of these, half fell below a minimum due to 
prosecutors’ substantial assistance motions and half due to other 
reasons.

After adjusting for differences in offense and offender 
characteristics among judicial circuits and districts, our analysis 
showed variations among certain circuits and districts in the 
likelihood an offender received a substantial assistance departure, 
other downward departure, or a sentence falling below a mandatory 
minimum. However, these variations did not necessarily indicate 
unwarranted sentencing departures or misapplication of the guidelines 
because data were not available to fully compare the offenders and 
offenses for which they were convicted. 

For drug sentences nationally, USSC receives 96 percent or more of the 
three key documents, including the statement of reasons (SOR), used to 
record sentence length and departures. For a small percentage of drug 
cases in USSC’s database, information is missing, incomplete, or too 
difficult for USSC to interpret, principally affecting sentencing 
analyses in districts where the missing or incomplete data are most 
prevalent.

What GAO Recommends:

We recommend that USSC and the Administrative Office of the U.S. 
Courts (AOUSC) continue to collaborate on education programs to 
encourage judges and other court officials to use AOUSC’s standard 
statement of reasons form (SOR), to complete the SOR more effectively; 
and to revise the standard SOR to better meet the data collection 
needs of the USSC.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-105.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click 
on the link above. For more information, contact William O. Jenkins at 
(202) 512-8757 or jenkinswo@gao.gov.

[End of section]

Contents:

Letter:

Results in Brief:

Background:

Federal Drug Sentences Departed Downward More Often Due to Substantial 
Assistance than for Other Reasons:

More Than Half of Drug Sentences Fell below an Otherwise Applicable 
Mandatory Minimum Sentence:

Likelihood of Sentences Departing Downward or Falling below a Mandatory 
Minimum Varied by Judicial Circuits and Districts:

Opportunities Exist to Improve Sentencing Data Collection and 
Reporting:

Conclusions:

Recommendations:

Agency Comments:

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology:

Objectives:

Scope:

Methodology:

Appendix II: Percentage of Sentences Falling below an Applicable 
Guideline Range or An Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum:

Appendix III: Likelihood of Sentences Falling below a Guideline Range or 
an Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum:

Appendix IV: Data for Analyzing Departures and Mandatory Minimum 
Sentences at Circuit and District Court Levels Limited:

Documents USSC Requests from District Courts:

How USSC Uses Documents to Create Its Database:

USSC Receives Most of Requested Sentencing Documents:

USSC Takes Steps to Reduce Missing Document Rate:

Missing or Difficult to Interpret Information Can Affect Analysis of 
Departures:

USSC Actions to Improve Coding:

Multiple Reasons Cited for Missing Documentation and Information:

Other Downward Departures Do Not Solely Reflect Judicial Discretion:

Appendix V: Comments from U.S. Sentencing Commission:

Appendix V: IComments from the Judicial Conference Committee on 
Criminal Law:

Appendix VI: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

GAO Contacts:

Staff Acknowledgments:

Tables:

Table 1: Comparing Downward Departures Due to Substantial Assistance 
and Other Reasons for All Federal Sentences with Federal Drug 
Sentences, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Table 2: Numbers and Percents of Drug Cases Involving Different Types 
of Offenses or Offenders, and Percentages of Each Type Receiving 
Sentences Departing Downward from the Guidelines:

Table 3: Numbers and Percents of Drug Cases Involving Different Types 
of Offenses or Offenders, and Percentages of Each Type Receiving 
Sentences Departing Downward from the Guidelines:

Table 4: Hypothetical Example Showing Effect of Two Different Methods 
of Computing Percentages for "Other Downward Departures":

Table 5: Percentages of Drug Cases between 1999 and 2001 Resulting in 
Upward Departures, Within Range Sentences, and Downward Departures, by 
Circuit:

Table 6: Percentages of Drug Cases between 1999 and 2001 Resulting in 
Upward Departures, Within Range Sentences, and Downward Departures, by 
District:

Table 7: Percentages of Mandatory Minimum Drug Cases between 1999 and 
2001 Resulting in Sentences at or above a Minimum, and below An 
Otherwise Applicable Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or for Other 
Reasons, by Circuit:

Table 8: Percentages of Mandatory Minimum Drug Cases between 1999 and 
2001 Resulting in Sentences at or above the Minimum, and below An 
Otherwise Applicable Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or For Other 
Reasons, by District:

Table 9: Odds on Substantial Assistance Departures and Other Downward 
Departures, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Circuits, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Table 10: Odds on Substantial Assistance Departures and Other Downward 
Departures, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Districts, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Table 11: Odds on Mandatory Minimum Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum for Substantial Assistance and 
for Other Reasons, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Circuits, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Table 12: Odds on Mandatory Minimum Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum for Substantial Assistance and 
for Other Reasons, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Districts, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Table 13: Percent of Missing Drug Sentencing Documents, by Circuit, as 
Shown in USSC's Database for Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Table 14: Percent of Missing Drug Sentencing Information on Documents 
USSC Received, by Circuit, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Table 15: First Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Table 16: Second Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Table 17: Third Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Figures:

Figure 1: Sentences Departing from Guideline Ranges and Sentences 
Falling below a Mandatory Minimum:

Figure 2: Geographical Boundaries of the 12 Regional Circuit Courts of 
Appeals and 94 District Courts:

Figure 3: Illustration of a Sentencing Guideline for an Offense of 
Conviction Carrying a Mandatory Minimum:

Figure 4: Percent of Substantial Assistance and Other Downward 
Departures for Drug Sentences, by Circuit, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Figure 5: Number of Districts by Percent of Drug Sentences Departing 
Downward Due to Substantial Assistance or for Other Reasons, Fiscal 
Years 1999-2001:

Figure 6: Percent of Drug Sentences Meeting or below an Otherwise 
Applicable Mandatory Minimum, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Figure 7: Summary of Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum and Departing Downward Compared 
with Sentences that Did Not Carry a Mandatory Minimum, Fiscal Years 
1999-2001:

Figure 8: Percent of Drug Sentences Falling below an Otherwise 
Applicable Mandatory Minimum due to Substantial Assistance or for Other 
Reasons, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Figure 9: Number of Districts by Percent of Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or 
Other Reasons, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Abbreviations:

AOUSC: Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:

J&C: Judgment and Commitment Order:

PSR: Presentence Report:

SOR: Statement of Reasons:

USSC: U.S. Sentencing Commission:

United States General Accounting Office:

Washington, DC 20548:

October 24, 2003:

The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner:
Chairman: 
Committee on the Judiciary: 
House of Representatives:

The Honorable Howard Coble:
Chairman: 
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security: 
Committee on the Judiciary: 
House of Representatives:

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984[Footnote 1] established the 
independent U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) and charged it with 
developing the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines were 
intended to avoid unwarranted disparities in sentences among defendants 
with similar criminal records who were found guilty of similar criminal 
conduct without eliminating the thoughtful imposition of individualized 
sentences.[Footnote 2] To foster this goal, the guidelines specify 
sentencing guideline ranges--a range of time (in months)--that 
offenders should serve given the nature of their offense and other 
factors but also permit sentences to depart upward or downward from 
guideline ranges due to aggravating or mitigating circumstances. For 
certain types of offenses, including certain drug and weapons offenses, 
Congress has statutorily specified mandatory minimum sentences that 
supplant the otherwise applicable guidelines range (see fig. 1). Judges 
may impose sentences that depart downward from established guidelines 
or fall below a mandatory minimum at the request of the prosecution 
because the defendant has provided substantial assistance to the 
government. USSC designates sentences departing downward for this 
reason as substantial assistance departures. [Footnote 3] A judge may 
also depart downward as a result of accepting a plea agreement or after 
considering characteristics of the offender or the offense not fully 
covered in the guidelines, such as extraordinary rehabilitation efforts 
after the offense but prior to sentencing. To distinguish such 
sentences from substantial assistance sentences, USSC designates them 
as "other downward departures" as part of its data gathering efforts.

Figure 1: Sentences Departing from Guideline Ranges and Sentences 
Falling below a Mandatory Minimum:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

As you requested, this report discusses downward departures for federal 
drug offenses. We identified the extent to which federal drug sentences 
departed downward from a guideline range determined by the court or 
fell below an applicable mandatory minimum in fiscal years 1999-2001. 
Our objectives were to (1) identify the percentage of federal 
sentences, and, specifically, those for drug-related offenses, 
departing downward due to substantial assistance motions or other 
reasons; (2) identify the percentage of federal drug sentences that 
fell below an applicable mandatory minimum due to substantial 
assistance motions or other reasons; (3) compare the likelihood across 
judicial circuits and districts that offenders received downward 
departing sentences or sentences below a mandatory minimum; and (4) 
identify limitations, if any, of USSC's sentencing data for drug 
offenses.

To meet these objectives, we obtained USSC's sentencing database for 
fiscal years 1999 through 2001 and used its coding scheme to identify 
(1) sentences departing downward due to a prosecutor's substantial 
assistance motion (substantial assistance departures); (2) sentences 
that departed downward for other reasons (other downward departures); 
and (3) sentences that fell below an applicable mandatory minimum. We 
used the offender and offense characteristics in USSC's database to 
statistically control for major differences among circuits and 
districts in the types of offenders sentenced and the offenses for 
which they were sentenced. However, it is important to note that a 
variety of other variables, such as an offender's extraordinary 
rehabilitation efforts after the offense but prior to sentencing, could 
affect departure decisions, but data for these variables are not 
readily available.

We also reviewed the types of documents USSC staff used to identify 
departures, the reasons for those departures, and the number of missing 
documents by circuit and district. We interviewed officials at USSC and 
the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), the 
administrative arm of the federal judiciary, and the Chair, Committee 
on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the 
judiciary's principal policymaking body. We conducted our work between 
March and August 2003 in Washington, D.C., in accordance with generally 
accepted government auditing standards. Appendix I includes a more 
detailed description of our scope and methodology. Appendixes II and 
III provide more detailed descriptions of how we applied our 
methodology.

Results in Brief:

Federal judges imposed 175,245 sentences subject to the federal 
sentencing guidelines in fiscal years 1999-2001. Of the 162,090 
sentences for which complete departure information was available, the 
majority of all federal criminal sentences (64 percent) as well as drug 
sentences (56 percent) were within applicable guideline ranges. Of the 
federal sentences that departed downward, 18 percent departed downward 
due to prosecutors' substantial assistance motions and 17 percent 
departed downward due to other reasons. Federal drug sentences imposed 
during the same period departed downward more frequently due to 
prosecutors' substantial assistance motions (28 percent) than for other 
reasons (16 percent).[Footnote 4]

Of 68,670 federal drug sentences imposed during fiscal years 1999-2001 
with complete departure and sentence length information, 41,861 carried 
a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Of these, more than half (52 
percent) fell below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence. 
An equal proportion of sentences fell below an otherwise applicable 
mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance (26 percent) as for 
other reasons, such as the safety valve (26 percent).

After taking into account differences in offender and offense 
characteristics across the 12 judicial circuits and 94 districts, our 
statistical analysis showed major variation among certain judicial 
circuits and districts in the likelihood of an offender receiving a 
substantial assistance departure, other downward departure, or a 
sentence falling below a mandatory minimum. For example, offenders 
sentenced in the Third Circuit during fiscal years 1999-2001 were over 
3 times more likely to receive a substantial assistance departure at a 
prosecutor's initiative than offenders sentenced in the First Circuit. 
Further, the odds that an offender would be granted an "other downward 
departure" also varied substantially across circuits. For example, 
offenders sentenced in the Ninth Circuit were over 18 times more likely 
to have received an other downward departure than offenders sentenced 
in the Fourth Circuit. We analyzed the extent to which sentences 
departed below applicable guidelines on average nationally; however, we 
did not compare the degree to which the length of the departures varied 
across circuits and districts. Finally, it is important to note the 
departure differences among circuits and districts that we found may 
not, in and of themselves, indicate unwarranted sentencing departures 
or misapplication of the guidelines. Empirical data on all factors that 
could influence sentencing were not available, and so an analysis that 
could fully explain why sentences varied was not possible.

USSC data were generally sufficient for our analyses of downward 
departures and mandatory minimum sentences across circuits and for the 
great majority of districts. USSC's sentencing data are based on 
information from five documents usually produced for each case during 
the sentencing process, but it principally relies on three of them--the 
Judgment and Commitment Order (J&C), Statement of Reasons (SOR), and 
Presentence Report (PSR)--to identify the length of sentences imposed, 
departures, and the reasons for departures. For drug sentences 
nationally, USSC receives 96 percent or more of these three key 
documents. For a small percentage of drug cases nationally, information 
regarding departures or the reasons for departures is lacking in USSC's 
database because documents are missing, incomplete, or too difficult 
for USSC to interpret. Opportunities for improving USSC data exist.

In order to improve USSC's data on federal drug sentences, we are 
making recommendations that USSC and AOUSC collaborate to improve the 
collection and recording of sentencing information through education 
programs, further revision of the standard SOR, and notification of 
Chief Judges of unclear, incomplete or difficult to interpret 
information received from their districts. On October 10, 2003, we 
received official written comments on a draft of our report from USSC 
and the Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law that 
generally agreed with our recommendations (see app. V). However, the 
Chair of the Criminal Law Committee noted that our report did not 
sufficiently distinguish downward departures that are due to judicial 
discretion from those that are due to prosecutorial discretion. As a 
result, according to the Committee, the category "other downward 
departures" invites confusion, and some may mistakenly attribute all 
such departures to judges. We state in our report that all other 
downward departures are not attributable to judicial discretion and 
that data were not available to fully distinguish sentences that are 
attributable to judicial discretion from those due to prosecutorial 
discretion. USSC, AOUSC, and Department of Justice also provided 
technical comments that we incorporated as appropriate.

Background:

The United States is divided into 94 federal judicial districts, each 
containing the federal trial courts, where criminal and civil cases are 
tried. Congress placed each of the 94 districts in 1 of 12 regional 
circuits, each containing a court of appeals, to which district court 
decisions may be appealed. Figure 2 is a map of the United States 
showing the geographical boundaries of the 94 district courts and the 
12 regional circuit courts of appeals (including 11 numbered circuits 
and the District of Columbia Circuit.). There is also a Court of 
Appeals for the Federal Circuit with nationwide jurisdiction for 
specific types of cases, such as patent appeals. This court does not 
hear cases involving the federal sentencing guidelines.

Figure 2: Geographical Boundaries of the 12 Regional Circuit Courts of 
Appeals and 94 District Courts:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

In 1984, to help ensure that similar crimes committed by similar 
criminals were punished with similar sentences, Congress, under the 
Sentencing Reform Act, established the U.S. Sentencing Commission 
(USSC) and directed that it develop a comprehensive sentencing scheme 
for federal crimes.[Footnote 5] USSC established guideline ranges for 
the length of federal prison sentences taking into account offender and 
offense characteristics to establish appropriate sentence terms. The 
sentencing guidelines cover more than 90 percent of all felony and 
Class A misdemeanor cases in the federal courts. The sentencing 
guidelines do not apply to Class B or C misdemeanors or infractions, 
offenses with a maximum prison exposure of 6 months or less.[Footnote 
6]

Applying USSC's guidance, federal district judges in the 94 federal 
district courts determine the appropriate sentencing guideline range 
for an offender based on various factors related to (1) the offense and 
(2) the offender. The offense is assigned an offense level, which for 
drug offenses is based on several factors such as the quantity and type 
of drug involved and whether the offense involved violence. The 
offender is also assigned a criminal history category based on the 
number of criminal history points. Criminal history points reflect the 
severity of an offender's prior criminal record. Taken in combination, 
the offense level and criminal history category correlate with a 
sentencing guideline range, which is expressed in months. In addition, 
for some drug offenses where a mandatory minimum sentence applies, the 
applicable mandatory minimum sentence supplants the lower end of the 
applicable guidelines sentencing range. For example, as shown in figure 
3, a convicted offender whose offense of conviction is assigned an 
offense level of 25 and who has a "criminal history category I" should 
be sentenced between a maximum of 71 months and a minimum of 57 months 
under the sentencing guidelines unless a mandatory minimum greater than 
57 months (e.g., 60 months) is required. A sentence less than 60 months 
falls below the applicable mandatory minimum.

Figure 3: Illustration of a Sentencing Guideline for an Offense of 
Conviction Carrying a Mandatory Minimum:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

The guidelines also permit sentences that fall above or below an 
applicable guidelines range, often called upward or downward 
departures, respectively, in certain circumstances. As illustrated in 
figure 3, a sentence of more than 71 months would depart upward from 
the applicable guideline range while a sentence of less than 57 months 
would depart downward, falling below the lower end of the guideline 
range.

At the request of the prosecution, the judge may depart downward 
because the defendant has provided substantial assistance to the 
government--what USSC designates as substantial assistance departures. 
But the guidelines also provide that a judge may depart downward if the 
court finds certain mitigating circumstances exist that were not 
adequately taken into consideration by USSC in formulating the 
guidelines that should result in a sentence below the guideline 
range.[Footnote 7] To assist sentencing courts, the guidelines list 
both encouraged departure factors (such as coercion or duress, 
diminished capacity, or aberrant behavior of non-violent offenders) and 
discouraged though permissible departure factors (such as age, physical 
condition, family responsibilities, or prior good works).[Footnote 8] 
Judges may also consider other, unmentioned factors that were not 
adequately considered by the guidelines (such as extraordinary 
rehabilitation after the offense but prior to sentencing). USSC 
designates consideration of encouraged, discouraged, and unmentioned 
factors as "other departures." Judges are required to explain the 
reasons for departing from the guidelines. The recently enacted PROTECT 
Act of 2003 makes clear that the reasons must be specific, written, and 
provided to USSC.[Footnote 9]

USSC maintains a database that records a variety of data on the 
offenders and offenses for which sentences are imposed. Judges must 
comply with USSC's data collection needs by furnishing a written report 
of the sentence, and the PROTECT Act makes clear that specific 
sentencing documents must accompany that report.[Footnote 10] Included 
in these data is information on whether the sentences imposed fell 
within or outside the applicable sentencing guidelines range as 
determined by the sentencing judge. Information on the incidence of 
sentencing outside of the guideline ranges is used by USSC to identify 
areas where the sentencing guidelines may need adjustment. Congress, 
under the PROTECT Act, directed USSC to review the grounds of downward 
departures that are authorized by its sentencing guidelines, policy 
statements, and official commentary, and to promulgate amendments to 
ensure that the incidence of downward departures is substantially 
reduced. The required amendments to the sentencing guidelines are due 
October 27, 2003.[Footnote 11]

As previously noted, various drug offenses carry a mandatory 
minimum.[Footnote 12] For such offenses, the mandatory minimum 
precludes judges from sentencing at a lower guideline range minimum or 
from granting a downward departure that might otherwise be available, 
unless one of two statutory provisions applies. First, a judge may 
impose a sentence below the applicable mandatory minimum if the 
government (the federal prosecutor) files a motion with the court for 
such sentencing relief because of the defendant's "substantial 
assistance" in the investigation or prosecution of another 
person.[Footnote 13] The discretion to make such a motion rests solely 
with the prosecutor. Second, in the absence of a substantial assistance 
motion, the "safety valve" provision affords relief from any otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenders who have 
minimal criminal history (i.e., no more than 1 criminal history point); 
were not violent, armed, or high-level participants; and provided the 
government with truthful information regarding the offense. In these 
cases, the court is directed by statute to impose a sentence pursuant 
to the sentencing guidelines without regard to a mandatory 
minimum.[Footnote 14]

As incorporated in USSC's sentencing guidelines, both the substantial 
assistance and the safety valve provision may affect sentencing for 
offenders whose offense of conviction does not carry a mandatory 
minimum sentence--that is, whose sentences are solely governed by the 
application of the sentencing guidelines. For such offenders, a 
substantial assistance motion permits the judge to depart downward from 
the applicable guidelines range.[Footnote 15] With respect to the 
safety valve, the sentencing guidelines provide offenders who are 
convicted of certain drug offenses and who meet the legislative safety 
valve requirements a 2-level decrease to their base offense level, for 
example, from level 25 to level 23.[Footnote 16]

Federal Drug Sentences Departed Downward More Often Due to Substantial 
Assistance than for Other Reasons:

The majority of federal sentences fell within an applicable guideline 
range, but when sentences departed downward, or fell below a guideline 
range, they did so about as often due to substantial assistance as to 
other reasons. Of the 162,090 federal sentences from fiscal years 1999-
2001 for which complete sentencing information was available, most were 
within the guideline ranges determined by the court (64 percent), and 
about an equal proportion of sentences departed downward due to 
substantial assistance (18 percent) as for other reasons (17 
percent).[Footnote 17]

Similar to federal sentences overall, of the 69,279 drug sentences for 
which complete departure information was available, we found that most 
sentences were within guideline ranges (56 percent). Unlike federal 
sentences overall, from fiscal years 1999 to 2001, federal drug 
sentences departed downward more frequently due to substantial 
assistance (28 percent) than other reasons (16 percent), as shown in 
table 1. Other reasons that drug sentences departed downward included 
early disposition, that is, fast track, programs initiated by 
prosecutors; plea agreements; and judges' consideration of mitigating 
circumstances. See appendix IV for more information on the frequency of 
reasons cited for other downward departures.

Table 1: Comparing Downward Departures Due to Substantial Assistance 
and Other Reasons for All Federal Sentences with Federal Drug 
Sentences, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Sentences imposed; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: 175,245; All 
criminal sentences[A]: Percent: [Empty]; All drug sentences: 
Number: 72,283; All drug sentences: Percent: [Empty].

Sentences with complete sentencing information; All criminal 
sentences[A]: Number: 162,090[B]; All criminal sentences[A]: Percent: 
100; All drug sentences: Number: 69,279[B]; All drug 
sentences: Percent: 100.

Sentences within guidelines; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: 
104,389; All criminal sentences[A]: Percent: 64; All drug 
sentences: Number: 39,138; All drug sentences: Percent: 56.

Upward departures; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: 980; All criminal 
sentences[A]: Percent: [C]; All drug sentences: Number: 143; 
All drug sentences: Percent: c.

Downward departures; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: [Empty]; All 
criminal sentences[A]: Percent: [Empty]; All drug sentences: 
Number: [Empty]; All drug sentences: Percent: [Empty].

Substantial assistance; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: 29,247; All 
criminal sentences[A]: Percent: 18; All drug sentences: 
Number: 19,107; All drug sentences: Percent: 28.

Other reasons; All criminal sentences[A]: Number: 27,474; All criminal 
sentences[A]: Percent: 17; All drug sentences: Number: 10,891; 
All drug sentences: Percent: 16.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC Data.

[A] Includes only offenders who were sentenced under the Federal 
Sentencing Guidelines.

[B] The USSC database lacked departure information on a total of 12,630 
(7 percent) of all federal sentences; of these, the USSC database 
lacked departure information on 3,004 (4 percent) federal drug 
sentences. An additional 525 sentences were missing offense type 
information.

[C] Less than 1 percent.

[End of table]

Prosecutors' substantial assistance motions resulted in downward 
departing sentences that were on average 49 percent of the average 
lowest sentence drug offenders otherwise would have received under the 
guidelines. Other downward departures resulted in sentences that were 
on average 57 percent of the average lowest sentence drug offenders 
otherwise would have received under the guidelines. See appendix I for 
more detailed information on sentence reductions.

The percentage of drug sentences that departed downward due to 
prosecutors' substantial assistance motions or for other reasons varied 
across judicial circuits in fiscal years 1999-2001, as shown in figure 
4.

Figure 4: Percent of Substantial Assistance and Other Downward 
Departures for Drug Sentences, by Circuit, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

The percentages of drug sentences departing downward differed notably 
across the 94 districts, even in some cases among districts within the 
same circuit. Figure 5 shows the 94 judicial districts grouped 
according to the percent of sentences imposed in districts that 
departed downward due to substantial assistance and for other reasons. 
In 55 districts, more than 30 percent of sentences departed downward 
due to substantial assistance, while in only 5 districts more than 30 
percent of the sentences departed downward due to other reasons. 
However, these percentage differences do not take into account 
differences in offender and offense characteristics that may contribute 
to differences among circuits and districts.

Figure 5: Number of Districts by Percent of Drug Sentences Departing 
Downward Due to Substantial Assistance or for Other Reasons, Fiscal 
Years 1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

More Than Half of Drug Sentences Fell below an Otherwise Applicable 
Mandatory Minimum Sentence:

Of 41,861 federal drug sentences included in our analysis that carried 
a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, more than half (52 percent) 
fell below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence. These 
sentences were split equally among those that fell below an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum sentence due to substantial assistance (26 
percent) and those that fell below for other reasons, such as the 
safety valve (26 percent).[Footnote 18] (See fig. 6.):

Figure 6: Percent of Drug Sentences Meeting or below an Otherwise 
Applicable Mandatory Minimum, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Nearly all of the mandatory minimum drug sentences carried either a 5-
year (48 percent) mandatory minimum or a 10-year minimum (49 percent). 
On average, prosecutors' substantial assistance motions reduced drug 
offenders' 5-year mandatory minimum sentence by 33 months. Sentences 
lowered for other reasons, such as the safety valve, that would 
otherwise be subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum were reduced by an 
average of 26 months. On average, prosecutors' substantial assistance 
motions reduced drug offenders' 10-year mandatory minimum sentences by 
63 months, and sentences lowered for other reasons that would otherwise 
be subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum were reduced by an average of 
52 months. See appendix I for more detailed information on sentence 
reductions.

Figure 7 provides a summary of the number and percent of federal drug 
sentences that fell below a mandatory minimum or guideline range 
compared with sentences that did not carry a mandatory minimum. Almost 
all of the sentences (99 percent) that fell below a mandatory minimum 
due to substantial assistance also departed downward from an applicable 
guideline range, whereas only a quarter of sentences that fell below an 
otherwise applicable mandatory minimum for other reasons also departed 
downward from an applicable guideline range. These percentage 
differences do not take into account offender and offense 
characteristics that may contribute to differences among circuits and 
districts.

Figure 7: Summary of Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum and Departing Downward Compared 
with Sentences that Did Not Carry a Mandatory Minimum, Fiscal Years 
1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

Note: Of the 72,283 federal drug sentences imposed during fiscal years 
1999-2001, 3,004 lacked complete information on departure status and 
609 lacked sentence length information needed to identify sentences 
that fell below a mandatory minimum. These sentences were omitted from 
this analysis.

[End of figure]

In 7 of the 12 Circuits, more sentences fell below a mandatory minimum 
due to substantial assistance motions than for other reasons, as figure 
8 shows.

Figure 8: Percent of Drug Sentences Falling below an Otherwise 
Applicable Mandatory Minimum due to Substantial Assistance or for Other 
Reasons, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

In addition to these differences among the circuits, across the 94 
districts the percentage of sentences meeting or below an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum substantially varied. Figure 9 shows the 
94 judicial districts grouped according to the percent of sentences 
imposed that fell below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum due 
to substantial assistance and for other reasons. In 40 districts, more 
than 30 percent of sentences fell below an otherwise applicable 
mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance whereas in 16 districts 
more than 30 percent fell below for other reasons. Appendix II has more 
details on our analysis of sentences for which the offense of 
conviction carried a mandatory minimum sentence.

Figure 9: Number of Districts by Percent of Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or 
Other Reasons, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Likelihood of Sentences Departing Downward or Falling below a Mandatory 
Minimum Varied by Judicial Circuits and Districts:

The percentage differences among circuits and districts suggest that 
variation existed in the way courts sentenced offenders; however, as 
discussed earlier, these percentages do not take into account factors 
such as the offender and offense characteristics that may affect 
sentencing within a circuit or district. For example, in addition to 
the number of deportable aliens potentially affecting the percent of 
other downward departures, some circuits and districts, when compared 
with others, could sentence a greater proportion of offenders who 
possessed and shared information of the crime that assisted the 
government in the investigation or prosecution of others. Therefore, a 
larger percent of offenders in those circuits and districts could have 
received a decrease in their sentence due to substantial assistance. 
Recognizing that judicial circuits and districts differed in the types 
of offenders sentenced and the offenses for which the offenders were 
sentenced, our analysis adjusted for differences such as race, gender, 
offense, criminal history, and offense severity (see appendix I for a 
complete list of variables included in our analysis). Although these 
are the major factors that could affect the likelihood of an offender 
receiving a departure, they are not all-inclusive.

We used adjusted odds ratios to estimate how circuits and districts 
vary in sentencing practices. An adjusted odds ratio in this case 
indicates whether a departure is statistically less likely, as likely, 
or more likely to occur in one circuit as in another. We can describe 
how much more likely or less likely a substantial assistance departure 
was to occur in one jurisdiction versus another; for instance, we can 
estimate that a substantial assistance departure was 20 percent less 
likely to occur or 3.6 times more likely to occur in one circuit 
compared with another. Our analysis focused on adjusted odds ratios 
since they provide us with our best estimates of differences across 
circuits and districts after taking into account the differences in 
drug cases handled across jurisdictions.

Using adjusted odds ratios to estimate the likelihood of an offender 
receiving a substantial assistance departure, we can see that 
percentage differences can be misleading. In comparing percentages of 
substantial assistance sentences in the Eighth Circuit (37 percent) 
with other circuits, it appears that in 5 circuits -D.C. (30 percent), 
the Second (32 percent), Fourth (33 percent), Seventh (31 percent), and 
Eleventh Circuits (30 percent)--fewer offenders received substantial 
assistance departures. But taking into account differences of offenders 
and offense characteristics, adjusted odds ratios show that in D.C., 
the Fourth and Eleventh circuits, offenders were actually as likely to 
receive a substantial assistance motion as in the Eighth Circuit. 
Although the Second Circuit's percentage of substantial assistance 
departures was lower than the Eighth Circuit's, after adjusting for 
offender and offense characteristics, offenders in the Second Circuit 
were 1.4 times more likely to be granted a substantial assistance 
departure than offenders in the Eighth Circuit. In another example, the 
First Circuit appears to grant more other downward departures (10 
percent) than the Eighth (8 percent), but the adjusted odds ratios 
imply that offenders in the First Circuit are actually 22 percent less 
likely to be granted an other downward departure than similar offenders 
in the Eighth Circuit.

After adjusting for differences in drug offenses and offender 
characteristics, the likelihood of an offender receiving a lower 
sentence due to either a prosecutor's substantial assistance motion or 
for other reasons varied substantially across the 12 U.S. circuits and 
the 94 U.S. district courts. For example, drug offenders sentenced in 
the Third Circuit from fiscal years 1999-2001 were over 3 times more 
likely to receive a substantial assistance departure at a prosecutor's 
initiative than drug offenders sentenced in the First Circuit during 
that same time period. The likelihood a drug offender would be granted 
an other downward departure also varied substantially. Adjusting for 
differences in offender and offense characteristics, drug offenders 
sentenced in the Ninth Circuit from fiscal years 1999-2001 were over 18 
times more likely to have received an other downward departure than 
similar drug offenders sentenced in the Fourth Circuit during that same 
time period.

The likelihood of courts to impose a sentence that fell below a 
mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance or other reasons also 
varied substantially across the 12 U.S. circuits and the 94 U.S. 
district courts, even after taking into account offense and offender 
characteristics for drug offenses. See appendix III for more details 
about the statistical likelihood of drug sentences departing downward 
or falling below a mandatory minimum and the variation in those 
likelihoods across all circuits and districts.

Our analysis shows variation--in some cases substantial differences--
among circuits and districts in the likelihood that offenders convicted 
of drug offenses would receive substantial assistance or other downward 
departures in fiscal years 1999-2001. However, these differences, in 
and of themselves, may not indicate unwarranted sentencing departures 
or misapplication of the sentencing guidelines. Empirical data on all 
factors that could influence sentencing were not available, and so an 
analysis that could fully explain why sentences varied was not 
possible.

Opportunities Exist to Improve Sentencing Data Collection and 
Reporting:

USSC data were generally sufficient for our analyses of downward 
departures and mandatory minimum sentences across circuits and for most 
districts. USSC's sentencing data are based on information from five 
documents usually produced for each case during the sentencing process. 
USSC requires that district courts send them these documents for each 
sentence imposed but principally relies on three of them--the Judgment 
and Commitment Order (J&C), Statement of Reasons (SOR), and Presentence 
Report (PSR)--to identify the length of sentences imposed, departures, 
and the reasons for departures. Nationally for drug cases, USSC 
received 96 percent or more of each of these documents from the 
district courts. The percentage of documents missing varied by circuit 
and districts within circuits. For example, among the circuits the 
percentage of missing SORs ranged from less than 1 percent to more than 
7 percent. Among districts within the Ninth Circuit, the percentage of 
missing SORs ranged from less than 1 percent to more than 58 percent. 
Although USSC received most of the requested documents, some were 
missing key information or contained unclear information that was 
difficult to interpret. For instance, among the 12 circuits, departure 
data were missing for 1 percent to 7 percent of all drug sentences 
imposed in fiscal years 1999-2001. See appendix IV for more detailed 
information.

In districts where the missing documents or information are 
concentrated analysis of departures could be affected. Missing or 
unclear data also limited our ability to determine when the safety 
valve was used as the basis for sentencing below a mandatory minimum. 
For example, in our preliminary analysis, we found that of the 11,256 
federal drug sentences for which the offense of conviction carried a 
mandatory minimum and fell below that minimum, about 1,600 (14 percent) 
were coded by USSC as falling below the applicable mandatory minimum 
but not involving either the safety valve or substantial assistance. We 
discussed this issue with USSC. After reviewing the underlying 
documents used for coding these 1,600 sentences, USSC determined that 
over 900 sentences were miscoded. These miscoded sentences were recoded 
in a variety of ways, including some coded as involving the safety 
valve, some coded as involving substantial assistance, some coded as 
having a changed drug quantity that affected the applicable mandatory 
minimum, and some coded as missing safety valve information. USSC did 
not recode 681 sentences; these sentences remained coded as falling 
below a mandatory minimum but involving neither the safety valve nor 
substantial assistance. In addition, safety valve information was 
determined to be missing from 770 sentences for which the offense of 
conviction carried and fell below a mandatory minimum.

AOUSC and USSC officials offered several explanations for missing 
documents and information or unclear information on documents that was 
difficult to interpret and code consistently. AOUSC officials noted 
that judges may not submit documents due to security concerns in cases 
where the record has been sealed or the offender placed in the witness 
protection program. Processing a high volume of drug cases could 
potentially affect document submission, they also noted. Of the four 
circuits with the highest volume of drug cases, two--the Fourth and the 
Ninth--also had the highest percentage of missing SORs, 7.4 percent and 
6.6 percent, respectively. Although AOUSC developed a standard SOR form 
for judges to use, USSC officials said that judges submit information 
to USSC using a variety of forms and formats. In USSC's view, this may 
contribute to missing information on documents (e.g., forms that do not 
prompt for an applicable mandatory minimum) or unclear information on 
the forms that is difficult to interpret.

In addition to these explanations, USSC and AOUSC officials said no 
information had been provided to judges and other court officials on 
how sentencing documents are used by USSC to create its database or how 
to clearly and completely prepare forms such as the SOR to meet USSC's 
data collection needs. USSC relies almost exclusively on the SOR to 
determine whether the sentence imposed departed from the guidelines 
range, met a mandatory minimum, or involved substantial assistance. 
Thus, missing, incomplete, or difficult to interpret information on 
that form can affect the completeness and accuracy of the data in 
USSC's database.

USSC has taken steps to reduce the number of missing documents and 
information, but opportunities for improvements exist. For instance, 
USSC sends an annual letter to the courts identifying those cases in 
which there appear to be missing documents. However, USSC officials 
said they do not inform courts of documents that, while received by 
USSC, contained missing or unclear information. In addition, USSC 
collaborates with the AOUSC and the Federal Judicial Center, the 
judiciary's research and education body, to educate judges and court 
officials on how to apply the sentencing guidelines, but they do not 
offer programs or workshops on how to complete forms such as the SOR 
and other documents used by USSC.

Although the AOUSC has also taken steps to improve the quality of 
sentencing data captured on the SOR, opportunities for improvements 
remain. At its September 2003 meeting, the Judicial Conference of the 
United States, the federal judiciary's principal policymaking body, 
approved a new standard SOR form. The Conference designated the new 
form as the mechanism by which courts comply with the requirements of 
the PROTECT Act to report reasons for sentences to USSC. The form was 
revised in part because AOUSC officials and the Chair of the Judicial 
Conference's Committee on Criminal Law stated that the previous SOR 
provided an imprecise measure of judicial discretion. It did not 
collect information on other downward departures that are initiated by 
the prosecution. The form was revised in consultation with USSC to 
better meet its data collection needs. However, a USSC official said 
that the new SOR does not specifically prompt for information on the 
application of the safety valve or whether the offense of conviction 
carried a mandatory minimum. In addition, judges will not be required 
to use this form although USSC believes that the most effective step to 
improving the completeness of the data the district courts report is 
for all courts to use a single, standard SOR. AOUSC officials said that 
while the Judicial Conference has endorsed the new form, they do not 
believe that the Conference has the authority to require judges to use 
the new SOR. However, AOUSC officials stated that with additional 
education they believe judges will see the benefits of the new form and 
routinely use it.

Conclusions:

The judiciary provided and USSC collected and interpreted sentencing 
information for the vast majority of the 72,283 drug sentences imposed 
during fiscal years 1999-2001. The small percentage of documents and 
sentencing information for drug cases that were lacking in USSC's 
database did not affect the validity of our analyses at the national or 
circuit level or for the vast majority of districts. However, the 
missing data could limit analyses of sentencing practices in the few 
districts where missing data are most prevalent. Reducing missing, 
incomplete, or difficult to interpret information would improve USSC's 
data on departures and reasons sentences fell below an applicable 
mandatory minimum. Unless the judiciary's standard SOR is revised, 
judges are made aware of how to effectively complete the SOR, and data 
submitted more consistently to USSC by the courts, these data problems 
are likely to persist. More could be done to help reduce the number of 
documents that are missing, incomplete, or too difficult for USSC to 
interpret. Evaluating how USSC interprets sentencing data was beyond 
the scope of this work. However, we believe that without changes to the 
way USSC reports other downward departures, that is, distinguishing, 
rather than combining other downward departures initiated by the 
government with those initiated by judges, the benefits of improved 
data collection of sentencing practices may not be fully realized.

Recommendations:

As USSC and the AOUSC work together to collect and record information 
on federal sentences and provide additional education and information 
to judges, we recommend that both USSC and AOUSC continue to 
collaborate to:

* develop educational programs and information for judges and other 
officers of the court to encourage the use of AOUSC's standard SOR and 
more effective ways to complete the SOR and:

* revise the standard SOR to better meet the data collection needs of 
USSC.

We also recommend, resources permitting, that USSC, in addition to 
notifying courts of missing sentencing documents, notify the Chief 
Judge of each district of documents for drug cases that were received 
but contained information that was unclear, incomplete, or difficult to 
interpret.

Agency Comments:

We requested comments on a draft of this report from USSC, the AOUSC, 
the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law, and the Department 
of Justice (DOJ). We received written comments on October 10, 2003, 
from USSC and the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law. Both 
generally agreed with our report and our recommendations, although the 
Criminal Law Committee was concerned that the variation among districts 
we found in the likelihood of other downward departures could 
mistakenly be attributed to judicial discretion. Their official 
comments are reproduced in Appendix V. We received oral technical 
comments from USSC and written technical comments from DOJ and the 
AOUSC that we incorporated where appropriate. DOJ, the Committee on 
Criminal Law, and USSC all noted that "fast-track" sentences--
prosecutor-initiated programs to encourage early case disposition and 
reduce the burden on the courts--could account for some of the 
variation we found among districts in other downward departures. We 
have added new tables in appendix IV that show the reasons reported to 
USSC for other downward departures and the frequency with which each 
reason was cited.

USSC:

USSC generally agreed with our report and our recommendations. USSC 
stated that it is already working to develop more detailed sentencing 
documentation, submission procedures, and educational outreach to 
courts and court personnel. USSC noted that while our recommendations 
are helpful and consistent with their own thinking, implementation of 
such measures may exceed their current resources given the increasing 
volume of sentences to be processed and more detailed information for 
each sentence required by the PROTECT Act.

The Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law:

The Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law generally agreed with 
our report and our recommendations. The Committee noted that it has 
taken significant steps to help USSC improve its data collection by 
revising the standard Statement of Reasons form and endorsing the 
standard form as the way to comply with PROTECT Act requirements.

The Committee commented that our report did not address the extent to 
which judges themselves, absent a prosecutor's request, have imposed 
sentences that fall below the sentencing guideline range. Further, the 
Committee noted that our report did not sufficiently distinguish 
downward departures that are due to judicial discretion from those that 
are due to prosecutorial discretion. As a result, according to the 
Committee, the category "other downward departures" invites confusion, 
and some may mistakenly attribute all such departures to judges. We 
state in our report on page 11 that other downward departures are 
attributable to prosecutors as well as judges. Additionally, data are 
not recorded, coded, or reported in ways that clearly delineate other 
downward departures due to judicial discretion from those due to 
prosecutorial discretion.

Impact of Fast Track Sentences on Analysis of Other Downward 
Departures:

In addition, DOJ, USSC, and the Committee on Criminal Law stated that 
our report did not sufficiently discuss the impact of early disposition 
or "fast track" programs on rates of other downward departures in those 
circuits and districts where such programs were in place. Fast-track 
programs in the southwest border districts provide lower sentences 
initiated by prosecutors for low-level drug trafficking offenses. DOJ 
noted that these programs were developed in response to a dramatic rise 
in immigration cases handled by federal prosecutors in districts along 
the southwestern border and were designed to enhance public safety and 
minimize the burden on the court system by processing these cases as 
quickly as possible. All of the agencies took the position that some 
circuits and districts departed downward more than others due to the 
greater prevalence in some circuits and districts of cases involving 
fast track programs.

It may ultimately be useful to distinguish fast track departures from 
other downward departures, in the same way that we have distinguished 
substantial assistance departures from other downward departures. 
However, as currently coded in USSC database, fast track cases can be 
identified only when a judge explicitly lists fast track as a reason 
for a downward departure. Sentences citing fast track as a reason for 
departing downward occurred almost entirely in one district--the 
Southern District of California in which 2,171 sentences (58 percent of 
other downward departures imposed in this district) were recorded by 
USSC as departing due to the government's fast track program. In all of 
the remaining 93 districts combined, only 9 sentences were recorded as 
departing downward due to fast track programs. Moreover, when we 
eliminate from our analyses those other downward departures that list 
"fast track" as a reason for departing, we obtain very similar results 
to those published in our report; that is, a greater likelihood of 
other downward departures occurring in the Southern District of 
California than in most other districts. We do not include these 
results in detail in our report because of our concern that fast track 
cases are not always reported by judges as such or coded by USSC in 
their database. If fast track departures are to be distinguished from 
other departures, then changes will need to be made in how such cases 
are currently reported to USSC. USSC is completing a report on 
departures, pursuant to a Congressional directive in the PROTECT Act, 
and will address the impact of fast track programs on departures in 
greater detail.

As agreed with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents 
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 2 days 
from the date of this report. At that time, we will send copies of this 
report to the AOUSC and Judicial Conference; DOJ; USSC; and the Federal 
Judicial Center. We will also make copies available to others upon 
request. In addition, the report will be available at no charge on 
GAO's Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please 
contact David Alexander at (202) 512-8777 or at Alexanderd@gao.gov or 
me at (202) 512-8777 or at jenkinswo@gao.gov. Major contributors to 
this report are listed in appendix V.

William O. Jenkins, Jr.: 

Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues:

Signed by William O. Jenkins, Jr.: 

[End of section]

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology:

Objectives:

Our objectives were to review and categorize all sentences imposed 
under the federal sentencing guidelines by federal district judges in 
fiscal years 1999 through 2001. Specifically, our objectives were to:

* identify the percentage of federal sentences, and specifically, those 
for drug-related offenses, departing downward from the applicable 
guidelines range as determined by the court due to substantial 
assistance motions or other reasons;

* identify the percentage of federal drug sentences that fell below an 
applicable mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance motions or 
other reasons;

* compare the likelihood across judicial circuits and districts that 
offenders received downward departing sentences or sentences below a 
mandatory minimum;

* identify limitations, if any, of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's 
(USSC) sentencing data for drug offenses.

Scope:

To meet these objectives, we obtained USSC sentencing data for fiscal 
years 1999 through 2001. During fiscal years 1999 through 2001, federal 
judges imposed sentences on 175,245 criminal offenders. Of this total, 
11,584 sentences (6.6 percent) lacked information on whether there was 
a departure from the guidelines range, and for 1,046 sentences (0.6 
percent) the guidelines were not applicable. An additional 167 
sentences (0.1 percent) lacked information on the type of offender 
sentenced (drug versus non-drug), and 358 sentences (0.2 percent) 
lacked information on both departure status and type of offender. For 
the remaining 162,090 sentences (92.5 percent), table 2 shows the 
numbers and percents of departure and non-departure sentences for drug 
and non-drug sentences.

Table 2: Numbers and Percents of Drug Cases Involving Different Types 
of Offenses or Offenders, and Percentages of Each Type Receiving 
Sentences Departing Downward from the Guidelines:

Type of sentence: Non-Drug; Departure status: Upward departure: 837; 
Departure status: No departure: 65,251; Departure status: Substantial 
assistance departure: 10,140; Departure status: Other downward 
departure: 16,583; Departure status: Total: 92,811.

Departure status: Upward departure: Drug: 0.9%; Departure status: No 
departure: Drug: 70.3%; Departure status: Substantial assistance 
departure: Drug: 10.9%; Departure status: Other downward departure: 
Drug: 17.9%.

Type of sentence: Drug; Departure status: Upward departure: 143; 
Departure status: No departure: 39,138; Departure status: Substantial 
assistance departure: 19,107; Departure status: Other downward 
departure: 10,891; Departure status: Total: 69,279.

Departure status: Upward departure: Total: 0.2%; Departure status: No 
departure: Total: 56.5%; Departure status: Substantial assistance 
departure: Total: 27.6%; Departure status: Other downward departure: 
Total: 15.7%.

Type of sentence: Total; Departure status: Upward departure: 980; 
Departure status: No departure: 104,389; Departure status: Substantial 
assistance departure: 29,247; Departure status: Other downward 
departure: 27,474; Departure status: Total: 162,090.

Departure status: Upward departure: Upward departure: 0.6%; Departure 
status: No departure: No departure: 64.4%; Departure status: 
Substantial assistance departure: Substantial assistance departure: 
18.0%; Departure status: Other downward departure: Other downward 
departure: 16.9%.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

[End of table]

Of the total of 175,245 offenders sentenced, 72,283 offenders (41 
percent) were convicted of drug offenses, and of those, 69,279 
offenders had complete information on departure status. Roughly 11 
percent of the non-drug offenders and 28 percent of the drug offenders 
received sentences below the guidelines range due to substantial 
assistance, while 18 percent of the non-drug offenders and 16 percent 
of the drug offenders received sentences that departed downward for 
other reasons. Of the 69,279 drug sentences that had valid information 
for USSC's departure variable, 42,145 sentences (61 percent) carried a 
mandatory minimum. Our analyses of mandatory minimum sentences excluded 
284 of these sentences (0.6 percent of all mandatory minimum sentences) 
that lacked the valid sentence length information necessary to 
determine whether the sentence fell below the minimum.

Methodology:

We had extensive discussions with knowledgeable USSC staff about the 
definitions and use of the data elements in our analysis. USSC takes 
many steps to ensure the reliability and completeness of the data it 
receives from districts. We did not independently validate the data in 
USSC's database; however, we did assess the quality of USSC data in our 
analysis by testing and crosschecking selected data elements for 
internal consistency. We discussed any anomalies we found from these 
tests with knowledgeable USSC staff. On the basis of our tests and 
discussions with USSC officials, we determined that the data were 
sufficiently accurate for our reporting objectives.

We defined sentences that fell above or below an applicable guideline 
range in accordance with USSC's definition of "departures"--sentences 
imposed that fall outside the sentencing guidelines range established 
by the court. In USSC's database sentences are coded into five 
categories: no departure, upward departure, downward departure, 
substantial assistance, and inapplicable. We distinguished sentences 
coded as "substantial assistance" as those that fell below sentencing 
guidelines due to "substantial assistance" or prosecutorial discretion. 
For sentences that fell below the guideline ranges for reasons other 
than substantial assistance, generally attributed to judicial 
discretion, we used those sentences coded as "downward departures." See 
appendix IV for a description of other reasons, which include the 
government's early disposition or "fast track" programs, cited by 
judges for downward departures. Sentences for which departure 
information was not available or coded "inapplicable" were deleted from 
our analysis.

We defined sentences that fell below an applicable mandatory minimum 
using USSC's recorded information for sentence length. For convictions 
where a mandatory minimum was recorded, those sentences with recorded 
lengths that fell below the length of time stipulated by the mandatory 
minimum were defined as "falling below the mandatory minimum." We 
identified 41,861 drug sentences that carried a mandatory minimum and 
had valid sentence length data. Of those sentences we designated as 
falling below an applicable mandatory minimum, we identified those 
sentences that involved a substantial assistance motion and those that 
fell below the mandatory minimum for other reasons, such as the safety 
valve. If a sentence fell below and involved a substantial assistance 
motion, we interpreted that sentence as a "substantial assistance 
sentence" that fell below a mandatory minimum due to prosecutorial 
discretion. If a sentence otherwise fell below, we interpreted it as 
falling below for "other reasons." Most of these sentences (9,384 or 87 
percent of them) involved offenders that qualified for the safety valve 
provision allowing judges to grant sentences below the mandatory 
minimum. The data do not indicate that all of these sentences involve 
the safety valve, which may be the result of coding errors or 
insufficient available data.

We also reviewed the types of documents USSC staff used to identify 
departures, the reasons for those departures, and the potential effect 
of missing or unclear documentation on the interpretation of the 
departure data in USSC's database by district. We also interviewed 
officials at USSC and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts 
(AOUSC), and the Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal 
Law.

Analyzing Numbers and Percents:

We analyzed sentencing data using both descriptive statistics and 
multivariate analytic methods. For fiscal years 1999-2001, we used 
USSC's data to identify for each circuit and district the total number 
and percent of sentences that fell above or within an applicable 
guideline range and below a guideline range for substantial assistance 
or for other reasons. We also identified all sentences that fell below 
an applicable mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance or for 
other reasons for each circuit and district. We provide these numbers 
and percentages in appendix II.

The simple differences in the percentage of drug sentences that fall 
below the guidelines range or below the mandatory minimum may not, 
without some adjustment, provide an appropriate basis for making 
comparisons across circuits and districts. Characteristics of the 
offenses and offenders sentenced can vary from one circuit or district 
to the next, and these differences may affect the number or percent of 
sentences that fall below applicable guideline ranges or a mandatory 
minimum. Judges in some circuits or districts, for example, may 
sentence a greater proportion of offenders who possessed and shared 
information of the crime that assisted the government in the 
investigation or prosecution of others or whose offenses were less 
serious. Differences in these characteristics might produce differences 
in sentences that have little to do with the exercise of discretion. 
Therefore, the unadjusted differences in the percent of sentences below 
the guidelines range or mandatory minimum might result from judges 
sentencing different offenders, rather than from judges sentencing 
offenders differently. Table 3 shows the offense and offender 
characteristics we considered in the multivariate analyses we conducted 
to adjust for such differences and re-estimate differences across 
circuits and districts after taking them into account. It also provides 
the numbers and percentages of all drug offenders or drug offenses that 
possessed each of these characteristics.

Table 3: Numbers and Percents of Drug Cases Involving Different Types 
of Offenses or Offenders, and Percentages of Each Type Receiving 
Sentences Departing Downward from the Guidelines:

Offense/offender characteristics: Type of drug offense: 

Offense/offender characteristics: Drug trafficking; Number of all drug 
cases: 66,616; Percent of all drug cases: 96%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 28%; Percent other downward departure: 16%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Drug: Communication facilities; 
Number of all drug cases: 1,212; Percent of all drug cases: 2%; Percent 
substantial assistance departure: 20%; Percent other downward 
departure: 12%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Drug: Simple possession; Number of 
all drug cases: 1,451; Percent of all drug cases: 2%; Percent 
substantial assistance departure: 4%; Percent other downward departure: 
2%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Drug type: 

Offense/offender characteristics: Cocaine; Number of all drug cases: 
15,110; Percent of all drug cases: 22%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 31%; Percent other downward departure: 10%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Crack; Number of all drug cases: 
14,562; Percent of all drug cases: 22%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 33%; Percent other downward departure: 8%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Heroine; Number of all drug cases: 
5,101; Percent of all drug cases: 8%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 23%; Percent other downward departure: 14%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Marijuana/Hashish; Number of all 
drug cases: 21,699; Percent of all drug cases: 32%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 18%; Percent other downward departure: 28%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Other; Number of all drug cases: 
11,208; Percent of all drug cases: 17%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 36%; Percent other downward departure: 10%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Severity of offense score: 

Offense/offender characteristics: Less than 17; Number of all drug 
cases: 14,700; Percent of all drug cases: 21%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 13%; Percent other downward departure: 29%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 17 to 22; Number of all drug cases: 
13,822; Percent of all drug cases: 20%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 22%; Percent other downward departure: 19%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 23 to 28; Number of all drug cases: 
18,453; Percent of all drug cases: 27%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 30%; Percent other downward departure: 10%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Greater than 28; Number of all drug 
cases: 22,206; Percent of all drug cases: 32%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 38%; Percent other downward departure: 9%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Weapon involved: 

Offense/offender characteristics: No enhancement; Number of all drug 
cases: 58,779; Percent of all drug cases: 90%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 27%; Percent other downward departure: 16%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Enhancement applied; Number of all 
drug cases: 6,630; Percent of all drug cases: 10%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 35%; Percent other downward departure: 8%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Mandatory minimum: 

Offense/offender characteristics: No minimum involved; Number of all 
drug cases: 27,133; Percent of all drug cases: 39%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 17%; Percent other downward departure: 24%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Mandatory minimum involved; Number 
of all drug cases: 42,145; Percent of all drug cases: 61%; Percent 
substantial assistance departure: 34%; Percent other downward 
departure: 10%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Guilty plea: 

Offense/offender characteristics: No guilty plea entered; Number of all 
drug cases: 3,352; Percent of all drug cases: 5%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 2%; Percent other downward departure: 10%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Guilty plea entered; Number of all 
drug cases: 65,824; Percent of all drug cases: 95%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 29%; Percent other downward departure: 16%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Safety valve provision: 

Offense/offender characteristics: No safety valve applied; Number of 
all drug cases: 45,788; Percent of all drug cases: 73%; Percent 
substantial assistance departure: 28%; Percent other downward 
departure: 16%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Safety valve applied; Number of all 
drug cases: 16,832; Percent of all drug cases: 27%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 30%; Percent other downward departure: 16%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Education: 

Offense/offender characteristics: Less than high school; Number of all 
drug cases: 34,197; Percent of all drug cases: 51%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 23%; Percent other downward departure: 18%.

Offense/offender characteristics: High school graduate; Number of all 
drug cases: 21,502; Percent of all drug cases: 32%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 31%; Percent other downward departure: 12%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Some college; Number of all drug 
cases: 9,819; Percent of all drug cases: 15%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 34%; Percent other downward departure: 13%.

Offense/offender characteristics: College graduate; Number of all drug 
cases: 1,708; Percent of all drug cases: 3%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 31%; Percent other downward departure: 15%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Race: 

Offense/offender characteristics: White; Number of all drug cases: 
17,405; Percent of all drug cases: 25%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 38%; Percent other downward departure: 13%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Black; Number of all drug cases: 
20,355; Percent of all drug cases: 29%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 32%; Percent other downward departure: 8%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Hispanic; Number of all drug cases: 
29,811; Percent of all drug cases: 43%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 18%; Percent other downward departure: 23%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Other; Number of all drug cases: 
1,708; Percent of all drug cases: 2%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 32%; Percent other downward departure: 13%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Sex: 

Offense/offender characteristics: Male; Number of all drug cases: 
59,801; Percent of all drug cases: 86%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 27%; Percent other downward departure: 15%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Female; Number of all drug cases: 
9,467; Percent of all drug cases: 14%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 33%; Percent other downward departure: 19%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Citizenship: 

Offense/offender characteristics: U.S. citizen; Number of all drug 
cases: 46,928; Percent of all drug cases: 68%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 33%; Percent other downward departure: 12%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Non-Citizen; Number of all drug 
cases: 22,351; Percent of all drug cases: 32%; Percent substantial 
assistance departure: 17%; Percent other downward departure: 24%.

Offense/offender characteristics: Criminal history category: 

Offense/offender characteristics: 1; Number of all drug cases: 38,798; 
Percent of all drug cases: 56%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 24%; Percent other downward departure: 18%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 2; Number of all drug cases: 8,343; 
Percent of all drug cases: 12%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 31%; Percent other downward departure: 12%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 3; Number of all drug cases: 10,010; 
Percent of all drug cases: 14%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 32%; Percent other downward departure: 12%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 4; Number of all drug cases: 4,550; 
Percent of all drug cases: 7%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 32%; Percent other downward departure: 13%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 5; Number of all drug cases: 2,185; 
Percent of all drug cases: 3%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 33%; Percent other downward departure: 13%.

Offense/offender characteristics: 6; Number of all drug cases: 5,277; 
Percent of all drug cases: 8%; Percent substantial assistance 
departure: 35%; Percent other downward departure: 15%.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: Severity Score is determined by the court. It ranges from 1 to 60 
for all crimes, but the highest score for a drug crime is 46.

[End of table]

Our primary focus in this report involved understanding how departure 
sentences vary across circuits and districts. Some of this variability 
across circuits and districts in the percentages of substantial 
assistance departures and other downward departures in the sentencing 
of drug offenders results from differences in the characteristics of 
offenses and offenders sentenced across circuits and districts. 
Moreover, the prosecution has sole authority to initiate a downward 
departure for substantial assistance, and all offenders are potentially 
eligible for such consideration. If an offender receives a substantial 
assistance departure, USSC codes the case as a substantial assistance 
departure and does not reflect any other downward departures that the 
judge may have granted in that particular case. Because of this coding 
convention, the percentage of other downward departures is partly a 
function of the percentage of downward departures for substantial 
assistance, which result from prosecutorial motions. To understand how 
these percentages are derived, it is useful to consider the following 
two hypothetical districts and the numbers of sentences of each type in 
each district shown in table 4.

Table 4: Hypothetical Example Showing Effect of Two Different Methods 
of Computing Percentages for "Other Downward Departures":

District: Number of sentences imposed.

District: A; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 40; Substantial assistance departures: Number of 
sentences imposed: 20; Other downward departures: Number of sentences 
imposed: 40; Total: Number of sentences imposed: 100.

District: B; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 20; Substantial assistance departures: Number of 
sentences imposed: 50; Other downward departures: Number of sentences 
imposed: 30; Total: Number of sentences imposed: 100.

District: Other downward departures as percent of total sentences 
imposed: 

District: A; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 40 (base 100); Substantial assistance departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 20 (base 100); Other downward departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 40 (base 100).

District: B; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 20 (base 100); Substantial assistance departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 50 (base 100); Other downward departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 30 (base 100).

District: Other downward departures as percent of total sentences less 
substantial assistance departures: 

District: A; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 40 (base 100); Substantial assistance departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 20 (base 100); Other downward departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 50 (base 80).

District: B; Sentences above and within a guideline range: Number of 
sentences imposed: 20 (base 100); Substantial assistance departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 50 (base 100); Other downward departures: 
Number of sentences imposed: 60 (base 50).

Source: GAO example.

[End of table]

The prosecution makes its selection for substantial assistance motions 
after screening the total universe of 100 offenders sentenced in each 
district. In our hypothetical example, the prosecutor offered and the 
court accepted substantial assistance motions for 20 percent of 100 
offenders in district A and 50 percent of 100 offenders in district B-
-or 30 percent less in district A. Because USSC's coding convention 
distinguishes substantial assistance cases from other downward 
departures, the universe of offenders who could be coded as receiving 
other downward departures is equal to the number of offenders who did 
not receive substantial assistance departures. In district A this would 
be 80 offenders (100 minus 20 substantial assistance departures) and in 
district B it would be 50 (100 minus 50 substantial assistance 
departures). Using this universe of offenders for our calculation, we 
would conclude that district A involves 10 percent fewer other 
departures than district B (40/80=50 percent versus 30/50=60 percent). 
While we offer percentages in some of the following tables that, 
following standard procedures, are based on the total number of 
offenders, we also use odds and odds ratios to describe the likelihoods 
of sentences departing. These odds and odds ratios have the advantage 
of utilizing the appropriate universe of offenders in making 
comparisons across circuits and districts.

Estimating Departure Likelihoods:

In order to make a fair comparison of sentencing patterns across 
circuits and districts, we used logistic regression analysis to 
estimate the likelihood that sentences would fall below an applicable 
guideline range or a mandatory minimum, before and after adjusting for 
differences in offender and offense characteristics across circuits and 
districts. Our adjusted estimates of the differences in likelihoods 
across circuits and districts involved controlling for the following 
offender and offense characteristics:

* Offender: gender, race, education, citizenship, and criminal history 
category score.

* Offense: type of drug involved; type and severity of offense; whether 
the offense was eligible for mandatory minimum sentence; whether a gun 
was involved in commission of the offense; whether the defendant was 
convicted after trial or entered a guilty plea; and whether the safety 
valve was applied.

Because they are somewhat more amenable to adjustment for offense and 
offender characteristics, we use odds and odds ratios, rather than 
percentages and percentage differences, to estimate the likelihood of 
sentences falling below a guideline range and the variability in those 
likelihoods across circuits and districts. We first calculated the odds 
on substantial assistance falling below a guideline range among all 
sentences, and then calculated the odds on other downward departures 
for those sentences that did not involve departures for substantial 
assistance. In both cases odds were compared across circuits and 
districts by taking their ratios. In our simple two district example 
above, the odds on substantial assistance departures in districts A and 
B would be 20/80=0.25 and 50/50=1.0, respectively, and the odds ratio 
of 1.0/0.25=4.0 indicates that the likelihood of substantial assistance 
departures were 4 times as great in district B as in district A. The 
odds on other downward departures, excluding the substantial assistance 
departures, would be 40/40 =1.0 in district A and 30/20=1.5 in district 
B, and the ratio of 1.5/1.0=1.5 indicates that downward departures are 
1.5 times as likely in district B as in district A.

We conducted four regression analyses. First, we conducted two 
regression analyses that estimated the likelihoods that drug sentences 
fell below an applicable guideline range due to either prosecutors' 
substantial assistance motions or for other reasons before and after 
controlling for offense and offender characteristics. Second, we 
conducted two regression analyses that estimated the likelihoods that 
drug sentences that carried a mandatory minimum fell below an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum due to either substantial assistance or 
other reasons before and after controlling for offense or offender 
characteristics.

Limitations:

Our work was limited to drug sentences imposed during fiscal years 
1999-2001, and excluded drug cases in that year that lacked information 
on whether the case departed from the guidelines (4 percent of all drug 
cases). We also excluded cases for which there was insufficient 
information to indicate whether the sentence involved was below a 
mandatory minimum (0.7 percent of all mandatory minimum drug cases), 
and were unable to identify whether 7 percent of the cases that fell 
below the mandatory minimum, and did not involve substantial 
assistance, involved the use of the safety valve provision. Further, 
our ability to control for differences in the likelihood of sentences 
departing from the guidelines, or falling below a mandatory minimum, 
was also restricted to a reasonably small number of characteristics for 
which we had data and was affected by the amount of missing data on 
those characteristics. Empirical data on all factors that could 
influence sentencing were not available, and so an analysis that could 
fully explain why sentences varied was not possible.

Our analyses were also limited to determining whether sentences fell 
below a guideline range or a mandatory minimum, and we did not 
investigate whether there were differences across circuits or districts 
in how far below a guideline range minimum or a mandatory minimum the 
sentences fell. Nationwide, the average (mean) minimum sentence length, 
under the guidelines, for drug sentences that departed downward for 
substantial assistance reasons was 108 months (or about 9 years). Those 
sentences were reduced as a result of the substantial assistance 
motion, on average, by 53 months, and the resulting sentence was, on 
average, 49 percent of the average lowest sentence drug offenders 
otherwise would have received under the guidelines.[Footnote 19] The 
average minimum sentence length under the guidelines for drug sentences 
that departed downward for reasons other than substantial assistance 
was 60 months (or 5 years). Those sentences were reduced, on average, 
by 22 months, and the resulting sentence was, on average, 57 percent of 
the average lowest sentence drug offenders otherwise would have 
received under the guidelines.

Nearly all of the mandatory minimum drug sentences were for 5 years (48 
percent) or 10 years (49 percent). The 5-year mandatory minimum 
sentences that were reduced for substantial assistance were reduced by 
an average of 33 months, resulting in an average sentence that was 45 
percent of the mandatory minimum. The sentences lowered for other 
reasons, (primarily the safety valve), that would otherwise be subject 
to a 5-year mandatory minimum were reduced by an average of 26 months, 
resulting in an average sentence that was 57 percent of the mandatory 
minimum. The 10-year mandatory minimum sentences that were reduced for 
substantial assistance were reduced by an average of 63 months, 
resulting in an average sentence that was 47 percent of the mandatory 
minimum. The sentences lowered for other reasons, (primarily the safety 
valve), that would otherwise be subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum 
were reduced for other reasons by an average of 52 months, resulting in 
an average sentence that was 57 percent of the mandatory minimum.

We also did not attempt to determine, for those sentences that fell 
within the guideline range, across circuits and districts whether 
sentences fell more frequently at the lower or higher end of the 
guideline range. However, overall, 72 percent of drug sentences that 
were within the guidelines range and did not depart were at the bottom 
of the range.

[End of section]

Appendix II: Percentage of Sentences Falling below an Applicable 
Guideline Range or An Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum:

This appendix provides information on the percent of federal drug 
sentences that fall below an applicable guideline range or an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum. We show in tables 5 and 6 the variability 
across circuits and districts in the percentages of drug sentences that 
were (1) above the guidelines range, (2) within the guidelines range, 
(3) below the range due to substantial assistance, and (4) below the 
range for other reasons. We then show in tables 7 and 8 the variability 
across circuits and districts in the percentages of mandatory minimum 
drug cases that resulted in sentences (1) at or above a mandatory 
minimum sentence, (2) below a mandatory minimum due to prosecutorial 
motions for substantial assistance, and (3) below the mandatory minimum 
for other reasons.

Table 5 shows that the percentage of upward departures from the 
sentencing guidelines for drug cases in fiscal years 1999-2001 was 
similar and exceedingly small across all 12 circuits. However, the 
percentages of within range sentences and downward departures varied 
substantially across circuits. The percentage of all drug sentences 
that were within the guidelines range varied from 34 percent in the 
Ninth Circuit to 69 percent in the First and Fifth Circuits. The 
percentage of drug sentences that involved downward departures for 
substantial assistance varied from 18 percent in the Ninth Circuit to 
45 percent in the Third Circuit, and the percentage that resulted in 
downward departures for other reasons varied from 4 percent in the 
Fourth Circuit to 47 percent in the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit 
was the only circuit in which the percentage of departures for other 
reasons exceeded 20 percent and the only circuit in which departures 
for other reasons were more common than departures for substantial 
assistance.

Table 5: Percentages of Drug Cases between 1999 and 2001 Resulting in 
Upward Departures, Within Range Sentences, and Downward Departures, by 
Circuit:

Circuit: D.C.; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 30%; Other downward 
departure: 16%; Total number of drug cases: 381.

Circuit: First; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 69%; Substantial assistance departure: 21%; Other downward 
departure: 10%; Total number of drug cases: 2,166.

Circuit: Second; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 48%; Substantial assistance departure: 32%; Other downward 
departure: 20%; Total number of drug cases: 5,166.

Circuit: Third; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 48%; Substantial assistance departure: 45%; Other downward 
departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 2,750.

Circuit: Fourth; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 33%; Other downward 
departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 6,302.

Circuit: Fifth; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 69%; Substantial assistance departure: 20%; Other downward 
departure: 11%; Total number of drug cases: 15,102.

Circuit: Sixth; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 42%; Other downward 
departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 5,067.

Circuit: Seventh; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 64%; Substantial assistance departure: 31%; Other downward 
departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 3,017.

Circuit: Eighth; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 55%; Substantial assistance departure: 37%; Other downward 
departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 5,255.

Circuit: Ninth; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 34%; Substantial assistance departure: 18%; Other downward 
departure: 47%; Total number of drug cases: 12,116.

Circuit: Tenth; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 22%; Other downward 
departure: 15%; Total number of drug cases: 3,500.

Circuit: Eleventh; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 64%; Substantial assistance departure: 30%; Other downward 
departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 8,457.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: 3,004 cases lacking information on departures were excluded.

[End of table]

Table 6 reveals that the percentages of sentences within the guidelines 
range and the percentages of sentences departing downward from them 
notably differed across the 94 districts, even in some cases among 
districts within the same circuit.

Table 6: Percentages of Drug Cases between 1999 and 2001 Resulting in 
Upward Departures, Within Range Sentences, and Downward Departures, by 
District:

District: D.C. Circuit: 

District: District of Columbia; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 30%; 
Other downward departure: 16%; Total number of drug cases: 381.

District: First Circuit: 

District: Maine; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 44%; Substantial assistance departure: 52%; Other downward 
departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 153.

District: Massachusetts; Upward departure: 0.6%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 51%; Substantial assistance departure: 30%; Other 
downward departure: 19%; Total number of drug cases: 656.

District: New Hampshire; Upward departure: 0.5%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 49%; Substantial assistance departure: 43%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 199.

District: Puerto Rico; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 87%; Substantial assistance departure: 7%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 1,006.

District: Rhode Island; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 80%; Substantial assistance departure: 9%; Other 
downward departure: 11%; Total number of drug cases: 152.

District: Second Circuit: 

District: Connecticut; Upward departure: 0.8%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 44%; Substantial assistance departure: 24%; Other 
downward departure: 31%; Total number of drug cases: 264.

District: New York Eastern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 45%; Substantial assistance departure: 24%; Other 
downward departure: 32%; Total number of drug cases: 1,961.

District: New York Northern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 24%; Substantial assistance departure: 68%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 586.

District: New York Southern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 64%; Substantial assistance departure: 24%; Other 
downward departure: 12%; Total number of drug cases: 1,642.

District: New York Western; Upward departure: 0.6%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 42%; Substantial assistance departure: 52%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 508.

District: Vermont; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 43%; Substantial assistance departure: 37%; Other downward 
departure: 21%; Total number of drug cases: 208.

District: Third Circuit: 

District: Delaware; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 52%; Substantial assistance departure: 41%; Other downward 
departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 71.

District: New Jersey; Upward departure: 0.4%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 60%; Substantial assistance departure: 32%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 847.

District: Pennsylvania Eastern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 36%; Substantial assistance departure: 57%; 
Other downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 1,028.

District: Pennsylvania Middle; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 38%; Substantial assistance departure: 56%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 392.

District: Pennsylvania Western; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 55%; Substantial assistance departure: 37%; 
Other downward departure: 9%; Total number of drug cases: 352.

District: Virgin Islands; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 75%; Substantial assistance departure: 17%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 60.

District: Fourth Circuit: 

District: Maryland; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 43%; Substantial assistance departure: 43%; Other downward 
departure: 14%; Total number of drug cases: 517.

District: North Carolina Eastern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 56%; Substantial assistance departure: 41%; 
Other downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 619.

District: North Carolina Middle; Upward departure: 0.8%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 34%; 
Other downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 508.

District: North Carolina Western; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 32%; Substantial assistance departure: 62%; 
Other downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 970.

District: South Carolina; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 60%; Substantial assistance departure: 38%; Other 
downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 988.

District: Virginia Eastern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 89%; Substantial assistance departure: 8%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 1,360.

District: Virginia Western; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 56%; Substantial assistance departure: 42%; Other 
downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 567.

District: West Virginia Northern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 89%; Substantial assistance departure: 9%; 
Other downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 339.

District: West Virginia Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 81%; Substantial assistance departure: 16%; 
Other downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 433.

District: Fifth Circuit: 

District: Louisiana Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 74%; Substantial assistance departure: 19%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 587.

District: Louisiana Middle; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 39%; Substantial assistance departure: 58%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 66.

District: Louisiana Western; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 64%; Substantial assistance departure: 32%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 395.

District: Mississippi Northern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 42%; Substantial assistance departure: 49%; 
Other downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 245.

District: Mississippi Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 58%; Substantial assistance departure: 39%; 
Other downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 369.

District: Texas Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 80%; Substantial assistance departure: 14%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 869.

District: Texas Northern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 65%; Substantial assistance departure: 31%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 960.

District: Texas Southern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 66%; Substantial assistance departure: 26%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 4,863.

District: Texas Western; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 72%; Substantial assistance departure: 12%; Other 
downward departure: 16%; Total number of drug cases: 6,750.

District: Sixth Circuit: 

District: Kentucky Eastern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 57%; Substantial assistance departure: 40%; Other 
downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 866.

District: Kentucky Western; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 81%; Substantial assistance departure: 16%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 296.

District: Michigan Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 51%; Substantial assistance departure: 43%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 871.

District: Michigan Western; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 49%; Substantial assistance departure: 44%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 335.

District: Ohio Northern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 47%; Substantial assistance departure: 44%; Other 
downward departure: 9%; Total number of drug cases: 729.

District: Ohio Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 38%; Substantial assistance departure: 54%; Other 
downward departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 506.

District: Tennessee Eastern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 57%; Substantial assistance departure: 41%; Other 
downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 742.

District: Tennessee Middle; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 40%; Other 
downward departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 205.

District: Tennessee Western; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 56%; Substantial assistance departure: 40%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 517.

District: Seventh Circuit: 

District: Illinois Central; Upward departure: 0.5%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 38%; Substantial assistance departure: 56%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 424.

District: Illinois Northern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 38%; Other 
downward departure: 9%; Total number of drug cases: 687.

District: Illinois Southern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 90%; Substantial assistance departure: 6%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 722.

District: Indiana Northern; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 71%; Substantial assistance departure: 25%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 455.

District: Indiana Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 39%; Substantial assistance departure: 58%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 296.

District: Wisconsin Eastern; Upward departure: 0.4%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 65%; Substantial assistance departure: 32%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 280.

District: Wisconsin Western; Upward departure: 1.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 79%; Substantial assistance departure: 17%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 153.

District: Eighth Circuit: 

District: Arkansas Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 81%; Substantial assistance departure: 16%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 321.

District: Arkansas Western; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 70%; Substantial assistance departure: 27%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 168.

District: Iowa Northern; Upward departure: 1.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 52%; Substantial assistance departure: 41%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 477.

District: Iowa Southern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 45%; Substantial assistance departure: 44%; Other 
downward departure: 11%; Total number of drug cases: 692.

District: Minnesota; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 54%; Substantial assistance departure: 31%; Other downward 
departure: 15%; Total number of drug cases: 590.

District: Missouri Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 59%; Substantial assistance departure: 36%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 908.

District: Missouri Western; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 37%; Substantial assistance departure: 59%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 914.

District: Nebraska; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 65%; Substantial assistance departure: 25%; Other downward 
departure: 10%; Total number of drug cases: 893.

District: North Dakota; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 53%; Substantial assistance departure: 38%; Other 
downward departure: 8%; Total number of drug cases: 86.

District: South Dakota; Upward departure: 0.5%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 69%; Substantial assistance departure: 19%; Other 
downward departure: 11%; Total number of drug cases: 206.

District: Ninth Circuit: 

District: Alaska; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 69%; Substantial assistance departure: 19%; Other downward 
departure: 11%; Total number of drug cases: 201.

District: Arizona; Upward departure: 0.6%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 28%; Substantial assistance departure: 13%; Other downward 
departure: 58%; Total number of drug cases: 2,560.

District: California Central; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 72%; Substantial assistance departure: 16%; Other 
downward departure: 12%; Total number of drug cases: 418.

District: California Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 64%; Substantial assistance departure: 26%; Other 
downward departure: 10%; Total number of drug cases: 622.

District: California Northern; Upward departure: 1.5%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 60%; Substantial assistance departure: 15%; Other 
downward departure: 23%; Total number of drug cases: 406.

District: California Southern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 17%; Substantial assistance departure: 13%; Other 
downward departure: 70%; Total number of drug cases: 5,312.

District: Guam; Upward departure: 1.2%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 43%; Substantial assistance departure: 54%; Other downward 
departure: 1%; Total number of drug cases: 83.

District: Hawaii; Upward departure: 0.4%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 58%; Substantial assistance departure: 32%; Other downward 
departure: 10%; Total number of drug cases: 524.

District: Idaho; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 33%; Substantial assistance departure: 62%; Other downward 
departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 97.

District: Montana; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 54%; Substantial assistance departure: 40%; Other downward 
departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 399.

District: Nevada; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 18%; Other downward 
departure: 18%; Total number of drug cases: 315.

District: Northern Mariana Islands; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced 
within guideline range: 29%; Substantial assistance departure: 71%; 
Other downward departure: 0%; Total number of drug cases: 17.

District: Oregon; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 55%; Substantial assistance departure: 33%; Other downward 
departure: 12%; Total number of drug cases: 366.

District: Washington Eastern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 62%; Substantial assistance departure: 14%; Other 
downward departure: 24%; Total number of drug cases: 249.

District: Washington Western; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 52%; Substantial assistance departure: 33%; Other 
downward departure: 15%; Total number of drug cases: 544.

District: Tenth Circuit: 

District: Colorado; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 41%; Substantial assistance departure: 52%; Other downward 
departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 420.

District: Kansas; Upward departure: 0.4%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 29%; Other downward 
departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 560.

District: New Mexico; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 66%; Substantial assistance departure: 13%; Other 
downward departure: 21%; Total number of drug cases: 1,672.

District: Oklahoma Eastern; Upward departure: 1.4%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 54%; Substantial assistance departure: 5%; Other 
downward departure: 39%; Total number of drug cases: 74.

District: Oklahoma Northern; Upward departure: 0.8%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 73%; Substantial assistance departure: 21%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 131.

District: Oklahoma Western; Upward departure: 0.9%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 74%; Substantial assistance departure: 22%; Other 
downward departure: 3%; Total number of drug cases: 229.

District: Utah; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 67%; Substantial assistance departure: 12%; Other downward 
departure: 21%; Total number of drug cases: 199.

District: Wyoming; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within guideline 
range: 59%; Substantial assistance departure: 34%; Other downward 
departure: 7%; Total number of drug cases: 217.

District: Eleventh Circuit: 

District: Alabama Middle; Upward departure: 0.4%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 38%; Substantial assistance departure: 55%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 279.

District: Alabama Northern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 49%; Substantial assistance departure: 49%; Other 
downward departure: 2%; Total number of drug cases: 417.

District: Alabama Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 44%; Substantial assistance departure: 49%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 342.

District: Florida Middle; Upward departure: 0.2%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 57%; Substantial assistance departure: 37%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 2,007.

District: Florida Northern; Upward departure: 0.9%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 60%; Substantial assistance departure: 38%; Other 
downward departure: 1%; Total number of drug cases: 565.

District: Florida Southern; Upward departure: 0.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 78%; Substantial assistance departure: 16%; Other 
downward departure: 6%; Total number of drug cases: 3,237.

District: Georgia Middle; Upward departure: 1.1%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 55%; Substantial assistance departure: 39%; Other 
downward departure: 5%; Total number of drug cases: 558.

District: Georgia Northern; Upward departure: 0.3%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 60%; Substantial assistance departure: 30%; Other 
downward departure: 10%; Total number of drug cases: 756.

District: Georgia Southern; Upward departure: 0.0%; Sentenced within 
guideline range: 63%; Substantial assistance departure: 33%; Other 
downward departure: 4%; Total number of drug cases: 293.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: 3,004 cases lacking information on departures were excluded.

[End of table]

There were 6 districts in which the percentage of sentences departing 
upward from the guidelines exceeded 1 percent of all cases--Wisconsin 
Western (1.3 percent), Iowa Northern (1.3 percent), California Northern 
(1.5 percent), Guam (1.2 percent), Oklahoma Eastern (1.4 percent), and 
Georgia Middle (1.1). The percentage of sentences within the guidelines 
range varied substantially, from 17 percent in the California Southern 
District to 90 percent in the Illinois Southern District. Fewer than 10 
percent of the sentences departed downward for substantial assistance 
in Puerto Rico (7 percent), Rhode Island (9 percent), Virginia Eastern 
(8 percent), West Virginia Northern (9 percent), Illinois Southern (6 
percent), and Oklahoma Eastern (5 percent). At the same time, the 
percentage of cases departing downward for substantial assistance 
exceeded 50 percent in 16 districts, and was highest in the North 
Mariana Islands (71 percent), New York Northern (68 percent), North 
Carolina Western (62 percent), and Idaho (62 percent) Districts. 
Sentences departing downward for other reasons represented only 3 
percent or less of all sentences in 24 districts but over 20 percent of 
the sentences in 10 districts; these other downward departures were 
especially common in New York Eastern (32 percent), Oklahoma Eastern 
(39 percent), Arizona (58 percent), and California Southern (70 
percent) Districts. While the percentages of other downward departures 
were fairly similar and involved 10 percent or fewer of all cases in 
the various districts in the Sixth and Seventh Circuits, the range in 
the percentage of other downward departures were sizable across the 
districts in the Second Circuit (5 percent to 32 percent), Ninth 
Circuit (none to 70 percent), and Tenth Circuit (3 to 39 percent).

Table 7 shows the differences across circuits in the percentages of 
mandatory minimum drug sentences between 1999 and 2001 that were at or 
above an applicable mandatory minimum, below an otherwise applicable 
mandatory minimum due to substantial assistance, and below an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum for other reasons. The percentage of 
mandatory minimum sentences that were at or above an applicable 
mandatory minimum sentence ranged from 35 percent in the Ninth Circuit 
to 64 percent in the Fourth Circuit. The percentage of sentences that 
fell below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum due to substantial 
assistance motions ranged from 19 percent in the First Circuit to 40 
percent in the Third Circuit. The percentage of mandatory minimum 
sentences that fell below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum 
sentence for other reasons ranged from 12 percent in the Fourth Circuit 
to 38 percent in the Ninth Circuit.

Table 7: Percentages of Mandatory Minimum Drug Cases between 1999 and 
2001 Resulting in Sentences at or above a Minimum, and below An 
Otherwise Applicable Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or for Other 
Reasons, by Circuit:

Circuit: D.C.; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 236.

Circuit: First; At or above a mandatory minimum: 51%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 19%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
30%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 1,444.

Circuit: Second; At or above a mandatory minimum: 37%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 34%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
29%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,835.

Circuit: Third; At or above a mandatory minimum: 37%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 40%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
22%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 1,927.

Circuit: Fourth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 64%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 25%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 4,633.

Circuit: Fifth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 46%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 20%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
34%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 7,161.

Circuit: Sixth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 49%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 39%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
13%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 3,201.

Circuit: Seventh; At or above a mandatory minimum: 59%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 24%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,279.

Circuit: Eighth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 53%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 31%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
16%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 4,062.

Circuit: Ninth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 35%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 27%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
38%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 5,381.

Circuit: Tenth; At or above a mandatory minimum: 44%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
34%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,065.

Circuit: Eleventh; At or above a mandatory minimum: 47%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 23%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 29%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 6,637.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: 41,861 sentences carried a mandatory minimum and had complete 
sentence length information; 284 sentences with a mandatory minimum 
lacked complete sentence length information.

[End of table]

Table 8 provides these same percentages, classified by districts rather 
than circuits, and shows that variability in the sentencing of 
mandatory minimum offenders is considerable across the 94 districts. 
The percentage of sentences falling below an otherwise applicable 
mandatory minimum for substantial assistance reasons was very different 
across districts, ranging from less than 10 percent of all mandatory 
minimum sentences in 7 districts to over 50 percent in 9 districts. The 
percentage of sentences falling below an otherwise applicable mandatory 
minimum for other reasons also varied greatly across districts, from 
less than 10 percent of all mandatory minimum sentences in 11 districts 
to 50 percent or more in 3 districts.

Table 8: Percentages of Mandatory Minimum Drug Cases between 1999 and 
2001 Resulting in Sentences at or above the Minimum, and below An 
Otherwise Applicable Minimum Due to Substantial Assistance or For Other 
Reasons, by District:

District: D.C. Circuit: 

District: District of Columbia; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 236.

District: First Circuit: 

District: Maine; At or above a mandatory minimum: 31%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 52%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 75.

District: Massachusetts; At or above a mandatory minimum: 43%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 33%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 23%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 433.

District: New Hampshire; At or above a mandatory minimum: 37%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 42%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 21%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 86.

District: Puerto Rico; At or above a mandatory minimum: 58%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 6%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 36%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 762.

District: Rhode Island; At or above a mandatory minimum: 58%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 7%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 35%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 88.

District: Second Circuit: 

District: Connecticut; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 27%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 198.

District: New York Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 34%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 36%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 787.

District: New York Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 17%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 70%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 13%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 353.

District: New York Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 43%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 25%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 33%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 
1,230.

District: New York Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 40%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 46%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 14%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 211.

District: Vermont; At or above a mandatory minimum: 31%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 54%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 15%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 59.

District: Third Circuit: 

District: Delaware; At or above a mandatory minimum: 53%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 36%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 36.

District: New Jersey; At or above a mandatory minimum: 31%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 39%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 577.

District: Pennsylvania Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 32%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 52%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 16%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 828.

District: Pennsylvania Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 53%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 37%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 200.

District: Pennsylvania Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 31%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 263.

District: Virgin Islands; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 23.

District: Fourth Circuit: 

District: Maryland; At or above a mandatory minimum: 61%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 28%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 443.

District: North Carolina Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 70%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 23%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 7%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 505.

District: North Carolina Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 70%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 21%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 9%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 458.

District: North Carolina Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 50%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 41%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 9%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 822.

District: South Carolina; At or above a mandatory minimum: 61%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 28%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 685.

District: Virginia Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 76%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 7%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 996.

District: Virginia Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 49%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 39%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 456.

District: West Virginia Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 82%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 7%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 92.

District: West Virginia Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 70%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 12%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 174.

District: Fifth Circuit: 

District: Louisiana Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 55%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 17%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 29%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 423.

District: Louisiana Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 50%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 40%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 42.

District: Louisiana Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 83%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 12%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 5%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 283.

District: Mississippi Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 61%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 27%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 140.

District: Mississippi Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 50%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 32%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 257.

District: Texas Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 71%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 11%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 543.

District: Texas Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 25%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 647.

District: Texas Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 40%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 21%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 39%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,702.

District: Texas Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 36%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 18%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 46%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,124.

District: Sixth Circuit: 

District: Kentucky Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 32%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 52%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 15%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 402.

District: Kentucky Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 71%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 14%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 15%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 185.

District: Michigan Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 46%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 40%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 14%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 558.

District: Michigan Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 32%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 234.

District: Ohio Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 45%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 42%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 13%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 522.

District: Ohio Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 44%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 47%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 9%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 326.

District: Tennessee Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 35%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 13%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 472.

District: Tennessee Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 49%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 40%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 136.

District: Tennessee Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 59%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 31%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 367.

District: Seventh Circuit: 

District: Illinois Central; At or above a mandatory minimum: 60%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 35%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 5%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 304.

District: Illinois Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 44%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 31%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 26%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 570.

District: Illinois Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 79%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 4%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 547.

District: Indiana Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 60%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 274.

District: Indiana Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 43%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 45%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 272.

District: Wisconsin Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 60%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 23%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 217.

District: Wisconsin Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 79%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 9%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 12%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 95.

District: Eighth Circuit: 

District: Arkansas Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 68%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 15%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 17%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 207.

District: Arkansas Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 63%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 18%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 18%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 119.

District: Iowa Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 64%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 26%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 388.

District: Iowa Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 30%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 16%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 629.

District: Minnesota; At or above a mandatory minimum: 49%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 27%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 24%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 472.

District: Missouri Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 53%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 33%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 15%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 663.

District: Missouri Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 38%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 53%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 9%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 654.

District: Nebraska; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 21%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 771.

District: North Dakota; At or above a mandatory minimum: 44%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 45%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 55.

District: South Dakota; At or above a mandatory minimum: 63%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 23%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 14%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 103.

District: Ninth Circuit: 

District: Alaska; At or above a mandatory minimum: 59%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 19%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
22%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 130.

District: Arizona; At or above a mandatory minimum: 18%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 20%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 62%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 1,157.

District: California Central; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 14%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 34%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 325.

District: California Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 23%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 20%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 401.

District: California Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 16%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 31%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 274.

District: California Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 19%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 34%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 47%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 
1,357.

District: Guam; At or above a mandatory minimum: 28%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 52%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
19%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 67.

District: Hawaii; At or above a mandatory minimum: 44%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 33%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
23%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 415.

District: Idaho; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 37%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
8%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 59.

District: Montana; At or above a mandatory minimum: 50%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 40%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 219.

District: Nevada; At or above a mandatory minimum: 51%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 18%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
30%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 212.

District: Northern Mariana Islands; At or above a mandatory minimum: 
22%; Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 67%; Below a 
minimum for other reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug 
cases: 9.

District: Oregon; At or above a mandatory minimum: 50%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 27%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
22%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 246.

District: Washington Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 51%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 16%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 33%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 128.

District: Washington Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 41%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 35%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 24%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 381.

District: Tenth Circuit: 

District: Colorado; At or above a mandatory minimum: 32%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 52%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 16%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 251.

District: Kansas; At or above a mandatory minimum: 63%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
15%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 382.

District: New Mexico; At or above a mandatory minimum: 29%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 16%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 55%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 874.

District: Oklahoma Eastern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 7%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 37%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 46.

District: Oklahoma Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 65%; 
Below a minimum due to substantial assistance: 21%; Below a minimum for 
other reasons: 14%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 72.

District: Oklahoma Western; At or above a mandatory minimum: 73%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 17%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 151.

District: Utah; At or above a mandatory minimum: 41%; Below a minimum 
due to substantial assistance: 16%; Below a minimum for other reasons: 
43%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 107.

District: Wyoming; At or above a mandatory minimum: 54%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 27%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 19%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 185.

District: Eleventh Circuit: 

District: Alabama Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 43%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 48%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 9%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 193.

District: Alabama Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 52%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 37%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 11%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 301.

District: Alabama Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 49%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 41%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 267.

District: Florida Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 53%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 28%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 19%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 1,642.

District: Florida Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 59%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 33%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 8%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 477.

District: Florida Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 35%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 14%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 50%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 2,686.

District: Georgia Middle; At or above a mandatory minimum: 65%; Below a 
minimum due to substantial assistance: 25%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 10%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 305.

District: Georgia Northern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 57%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 22%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 21%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 566.

District: Georgia Southern; At or above a mandatory minimum: 75%; Below 
a minimum due to substantial assistance: 19%; Below a minimum for other 
reasons: 7%; Total number of mandatory minimum drug cases: 197.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: 41,861 sentences carried a mandatory minimum and had complete 
sentence length information; 284 sentences with a mandatory minimum 
lacked complete sentence length information.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix III: Likelihood of Sentences Falling below a Guideline Range or 
an Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum:

This appendix provides odds and odds ratios to describe the differences 
across circuits and districts in sentences falling below a guideline 
range or an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum for substantial 
assistance and other reasons, both before and after controlling for 
differences in offender and offense characteristics. In the left 
columns of tables 9 and 10, we show the odds on substantial assistance 
departures across circuits and districts and ratios indicating 
differences across circuits and districts, before and after we adjust 
for characteristics of offenses and offenders. In the right columns of 
tables 9 and 10, we show the odds on other downward departures across 
circuits and districts and ratios indicating differences between them, 
before and after we adjust for characteristics of offenses and 
offenders. In the comparisons across circuits, we used the Eighth 
Circuit as the reference category, so the odds ratios reflect how much 
more or less likely other circuits were than that circuit to depart in 
sentencing offenders. In comparisons across districts, the Minnesota 
District was used as the reference category. The offense and offender 
characteristics we controlled for were described earlier in appendix I. 
The ratios that estimate differences before and after adjusting for 
these characteristics were derived from logistic regression models. We 
focus on adjusted ratios in the following discussion, since they 
provide us with our best estimates of differences across circuits and 
districts after taking into account the differences in the drug cases 
handled across jurisdictions.

Table 9 shows that both the odds on substantial assistance departures 
and other downward departures varied substantially across circuits. 
After adjusting for differences across circuits in offense and offender 
characteristics, the odds on substantial assistance departures were 
significantly greater in three circuits than the Eighth Circuit. In the 
Third Circuit, for example, substantial assistance departures were 2.2 
times as likely as in the Eighth Circuit. Four circuits were not 
significantly different from the Eighth Circuit in terms of the 
likelihood of sentences departing for substantial assistance, and in 
the remaining 4 circuits substantial assistance departures were 
significantly less likely. In the First Circuit, for example, 
substantial assistance departures were less likely by a factor of 0.64, 
or 36 percent less likely, than in the Eighth Circuit. The fact that 
some circuits are less likely than the Eighth Circuit while others are 
more likely than the Eighth Circuit to depart for substantial 
assistance implies that some differences between other circuits are 
larger than those explicitly indicated by these ratios. For example, 
these ratios imply that substantial assistance departures in the Third 
Circuit are 2.2/0.64=3.4 times as likely as in the First Circuit.

Table 9: Odds on Substantial Assistance Departures and Other Downward 
Departures, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Circuits, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Circuit: Eighth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.59; 
Unadjusted ratios: [Empty]; Adjusted ratios: [Empty]; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: [Empty]; Adjusted ratios: 
[Empty].

Circuit: D.C.; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.44; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.75*; Adjusted ratios: 1.15; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 2.19*; Adjusted ratios: 2.16*.

Circuit: First; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.26; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 0.64*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 1.02; Adjusted ratios: 
0.78*.

Circuit: Second; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.47; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.81*; Adjusted ratios: 1.4*; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.41; Unadjusted ratios: 2.92*; Adjusted ratios: 2.39*.

Circuit: Third; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.83; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.41*; Adjusted ratios: 2.2*; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Adjusted ratios: 0.93.

Circuit: Fourth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.49; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.84*; Adjusted ratios: 1.01; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.06; Unadjusted ratios: 0.43*; Adjusted ratios: 0.37*.

Circuit: Fifth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.25; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.43*; Adjusted ratios: 0.85*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 1.11; Adjusted ratios: 
0.55*.

Circuit: Sixth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.71; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.22*; Adjusted ratios: 1.68*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.69*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.57*.

Circuit: Seventh; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.45; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.78*; Adjusted ratios: 0.91; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.08; Unadjusted ratios: 0.55*; Adjusted ratios: 0.48*.

Circuit: Ninth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.22; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.38*; Adjusted ratios: 0.75*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 1.38; Unadjusted ratios: 9.9*; Adjusted ratios: 
6.87*.

Circuit: Tenth; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.29; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.49*; Adjusted ratios: 0.78*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 1.67*; Adjusted ratios: 
1.2*.

Circuit: Eleventh; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.43; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.74*; Adjusted ratios: 0.98; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61*; Adjusted ratios: 0.5*.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: Odds on substantial assistance departures were calculated using 
all cases. Odds on other downward departures were calculated using only 
cases not involving downward departures for substantial assistance. 
Ratios were calculated using the Eighth Circuit as the referent 
category. Adjusted ratios are from logistic regression models that 
control for offense and offender characteristics.

*Odds ratio coefficients that are significant at the 0.05 level.

[End of table]

Table 9 also shows that for those sentences that do not involve 
substantial assistance departures, (and again after adjusting for 
offense and offender characteristics), other downward departures are 
significantly more likely in 4 circuits than in the Eighth Circuit, 
significantly less likely in 6 circuits than in the Eighth Circuit, and 
no different in the other one. The fact that other downward departures 
are 6.87 times more likely in the Ninth Circuit than in the Eighth 
Circuit, but less likely by a factor of 0.37 in the Fourth Circuit than 
in the Eighth Circuit, implies that such departures are 6.87/0.37 = 
18.6 or 19 times as likely in the Ninth Circuit as in the Fourth 
Circuit.

Table 10 shows that both the adjusted odds ratios on substantial 
assistance departures and other downward departures also varied 
substantially and significantly across districts. Substantial 
assistance departures were significantly more likely in 41 districts 
than in the Minnesota District. In the small Northern Mariana Islands 
District, for example, substantial assistance departures were 10 times 
more likely than in the Minnesota District, and in the large New York 
Northern District, they were 5 times more likely. Twenty-three 
districts were not significantly different from the Minnesota District 
in terms of the likelihood of sentences departing for substantial 
assistance, and in the remaining 29 districts substantial assistance 
departures were significantly less likely. In the Illinois Southern 
District, for example, substantial assistance departures were less 
likely by a factor of 0.11, which implies that the likelihood of 
substantial assistance departures were 9 times higher in the Minnesota 
District than they were there. Other districts, these odds imply, were 
even more disparate from one another. For example, these ratios imply 
that substantial assistance departures in the New York Northern 
District were 5.5/0.11=49.5 or 50 times more likely than in the 
Illinois Southern District.

Table 10: Odds on Substantial Assistance Departures and Other Downward 
Departures, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Districts, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

District: Minnesota; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.45; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.27.

District: D.C. Circuit: 

District: District of Columbia; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.44; Unadjusted ratios: 0.97; Adjusted ratios: 1.19; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 1.12; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.12.

District: First Circuit: 

District: Maine; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 1.10; 
Unadjusted ratios: 2.44*; Adjusted ratios: 2.79*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.27*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.28*.

District: Massachusetts; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.42; Unadjusted ratios: 0.93; Adjusted ratios: 1.01; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.37; Unadjusted ratios: 1.35; Adjusted ratios: 
1.17.

District: New Hampshire; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.75; Unadjusted ratios: 1.66*; Adjusted ratios: 2.23*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.56; Adjusted ratios: 
0.42*.

District: Puerto Rico; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.08; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.17*; Adjusted ratios: 0.17*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.06; Unadjusted ratios: 0.23*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.19*.

District: Rhode Island; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.23*; Adjusted ratios: 0.28*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.13; Unadjusted ratios: 0.48*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.42*.

District: Second Circuit: 

District: Connecticut; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.32; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.71*; Adjusted ratios: 0.69*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.69; Unadjusted ratios: 2.56*; Adjusted ratios: 
2.42*.

District: New York Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 0.68*; Adjusted ratios: 0.97; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.71; Unadjusted ratios: 2.61*; Adjusted ratios: 
2.48*.

District: New York Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
2.13; Unadjusted ratios: 4.75*; Adjusted ratios: 5.51*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.34; Unadjusted ratios: 1.23; Adjusted ratios: 
0.95.

District: New York Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.32; Unadjusted ratios: 0.7*; Adjusted ratios: 0.78*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.69*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.66*.

District: New York Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.10; Unadjusted ratios: 2.44*; Adjusted ratios: 4.5*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.11; Unadjusted ratios: 0.4*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.49*.

District: Vermont; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.58; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.28; Adjusted ratios: 1.47*; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.48; Unadjusted ratios: 1.78*; Adjusted ratios: 1.81*.

District: Third Circuit: 

District: Delaware; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.69; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.54; Adjusted ratios: 1.78*; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 0.50; Adjusted ratios: 0.37*.

District: New Jersey; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.47; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.04; Adjusted ratios: 1.29*; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.12; Unadjusted ratios: 0.46*; Adjusted ratios: 0.45*.

District: Pennsylvania Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 1.33; Unadjusted ratios: 2.96*; Adjusted ratios: 3.41*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.62*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.6*.

District: Pennsylvania Middle; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 1.25; Unadjusted ratios: 2.79*; Adjusted ratios: 3.44*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.62; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.56*.

District: Pennsylvania Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.59; Unadjusted ratios: 1.30; Adjusted ratios: 1.25; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.57*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.49*.

District: Virgin Islands; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 1.00; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.11; Unadjusted ratios: 0.41; Adjusted ratios: 
0.54.

District: Fourth Circuit: 

District: Maryland; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.75; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.66*; Adjusted ratios: 1.76*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 1.20; Adjusted ratios: 
1.23.

District: North Carolina Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.71; Unadjusted ratios: 1.57*; Adjusted ratios: 1.37*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.05; Unadjusted ratios: 0.18*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.15*.

District: North Carolina Middle; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.52; Unadjusted ratios: 1.15; Adjusted ratios: 1.05; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.11*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.09*.

District: North Carolina Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 1.66; Unadjusted ratios: 3.7*; Adjusted ratios: 3.06*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.44*.

District: South Carolina; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.62; Unadjusted ratios: 1.38*; Adjusted ratios: 1.35*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.11*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.09*.

District: Virginia Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.2*; Adjusted ratios: 0.2*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.12*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.12*.

District: Virginia Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.72; Unadjusted ratios: 1.61*; Adjusted ratios: 1.43*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.11*.

District: West Virginia Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.22*; Adjusted ratios: 0.24*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.02; Unadjusted ratios: 0.09*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.06*.

District: West Virginia Southern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.41*; Adjusted ratios: 0.46*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.15*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.12*.

District: Fifth Circuit: 

District: Louisiana Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.24; Unadjusted ratios: 0.52*; Adjusted ratios: 0.53*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.32*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.34*.

District: Louisiana Middle; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.36; Unadjusted ratios: 3.02*; Adjusted ratios: 3.94*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.08; Unadjusted ratios: 0.28; Adjusted ratios: 
0.32.

District: Louisiana Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.48; Unadjusted ratios: 1.07; Adjusted ratios: 1.03; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.05; Unadjusted ratios: 0.19*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.16*.

District: Mississippi Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.98; Unadjusted ratios: 2.17*; Adjusted ratios: 2.02*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.71; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.62.

District: Mississippi Southern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.63; Unadjusted ratios: 1.41*; Adjusted ratios: 1.42*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.05; Unadjusted ratios: 0.19*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.18*.

District: Texas Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.37*; Adjusted ratios: 0.38*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.28*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.23*.

District: Texas Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.44; Unadjusted ratios: 0.98; Adjusted ratios: 0.97; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.25*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.22*.

District: Texas Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.36; Unadjusted ratios: 0.8*; Adjusted ratios: 1.28*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.11; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.35*.

District: Texas Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.13; Unadjusted ratios: 0.3*; Adjusted ratios: 0.55*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 0.81; Adjusted ratios: 
0.6*.

District: Sixth Circuit: 

District: Kentucky Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.68; Unadjusted ratios: 1.51*; Adjusted ratios: 1.96*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.16*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.17*.

District: Kentucky Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.43*; Adjusted ratios: 0.47*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.12*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.14*.

District: Michigan Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.76; Unadjusted ratios: 1.68*; Adjusted ratios: 2.02*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.12; Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.43*.

District: Michigan Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.80; Unadjusted ratios: 1.78*; Adjusted ratios: 1.91*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.13; Unadjusted ratios: 0.47*; Adjusted ratios: 0.42*.

District: Ohio Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.77; Unadjusted ratios: 1.72*; Adjusted ratios: 1.8*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.74; Adjusted ratios: 
0.76.

District: Ohio Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.19; Unadjusted ratios: 2.65*; Adjusted ratios: 3.18*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.70; Adjusted ratios: 
0.76.

District: Tennessee Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.69; Unadjusted ratios: 1.54*; Adjusted ratios: 1.56*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.12*.

District: Tennessee Middle; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.65; Unadjusted ratios: 1.45*; Adjusted ratios: 1.58*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 0.51*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.58.

District: Tennessee Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.68; Unadjusted ratios: 1.51*; Adjusted ratios: 1.4*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.26*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.22*.

District: Seventh Circuit: 

District: Illinois Central; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.27; Unadjusted ratios: 2.82*; Adjusted ratios: 2.62*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 0.52*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.37*.

District: Illinois Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.60; Unadjusted ratios: 1.34*; Adjusted ratios: 1.52*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.62*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.67*.

District: Illinois Southern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.06; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; Adjusted ratios: 0.11*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.15*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.11*.

District: Indiana Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.34; Unadjusted ratios: 0.76; Adjusted ratios: 0.97; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.05; Unadjusted ratios: 0.18*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.18*.

District: Indiana Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.39; Unadjusted ratios: 3.08*; Adjusted ratios: 2.69*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.32*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.35*.

District: Wisconsin Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.47; Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Adjusted ratios: 0.96; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.12*.

District: Wisconsin Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.46*; Adjusted ratios: 0.35*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.12*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.1*.

District: Eighth Circuit: 

District: Arkansas Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.43*; Adjusted ratios: 0.35*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.12*.

District: Arkansas Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.37; Unadjusted ratios: 0.81; Adjusted ratios: 0.83; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.05; Unadjusted ratios: 0.19*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.18*.

District: Iowa Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.69; Unadjusted ratios: 1.54*; Adjusted ratios: 1.03; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.12; Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.41*.

District: Iowa Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.79; Unadjusted ratios: 1.76*; Adjusted ratios: 1.20; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.24; Unadjusted ratios: 0.89; Adjusted ratios: 
0.77.

District: Missouri Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.57; Unadjusted ratios: 1.26*; Adjusted ratios: 1.19; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.32*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.31*.

District: Missouri Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.44; Unadjusted ratios: 3.21*; Adjusted ratios: 2.63*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.33*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.3*.

District: Nebraska; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.33; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.73*; Adjusted ratios: 0.52*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.58*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.54*.

District: North Dakota; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.62; Unadjusted ratios: 1.38; Adjusted ratios: 1.16; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.56; Adjusted ratios: 
0.65.

District: South Dakota; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.24; Unadjusted ratios: 0.54*; Adjusted ratios: 0.57*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.56*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.58*.

District: Ninth Circuit: 

District: Alaska; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.24; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.54*; Adjusted ratios: 0.61*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61; Adjusted ratios: 
0.69.

District: Arizona; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.15; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.34*; Adjusted ratios: 0.61*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 1.98; Unadjusted ratios: 7.3*; Adjusted ratios: 
7.41*.

District: California Central; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; Adjusted ratios: 0.55*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.63*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.69.

District: California Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.35; Unadjusted ratios: 0.78; Adjusted ratios: 0.86; Odds 
on other downward departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.55*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.51*.

District: California Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.18; Unadjusted ratios: 0.4*; Adjusted ratios: 0.48*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.38; Unadjusted ratios: 1.4*; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.68*.

District: California Southern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.33*; Adjusted ratios: 0.65*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 4.18; Unadjusted ratios: 15.39*; 
Adjusted ratios: 14.69*.

District: Guam; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 1.18; 
Unadjusted ratios: 2.63*; Adjusted ratios: 2.12*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.03; Unadjusted ratios: 0.1*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.13*.

District: Hawaii; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.47; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Adjusted ratios: 1.06; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; Adjusted ratios: 0.76.

District: Idaho; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 1.62; 
Unadjusted ratios: 3.61*; Adjusted ratios: 4.16*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.57; Adjusted ratios: 
0.58.

District: Montana; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.68; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.5*; Adjusted ratios: 1.76*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.36*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.41*.

District: Nevada; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.23; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.5*; Adjusted ratios: 0.55*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 1.02; Adjusted ratios: 
1.01.

District: Northern Mariana Islands; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 2.40; Unadjusted ratios: 5.34*; Adjusted ratios: 10.08*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.00; Unadjusted ratios: 0.00; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.00.

District: Oregon; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.48; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.07; Adjusted ratios: 1.02; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 0.80; Adjusted ratios: 0.59*.

District: Washington Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.36*; Adjusted ratios: 0.44*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.39; Unadjusted ratios: 1.43; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.45.

District: Washington Western; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.50; Unadjusted ratios: 1.11; Adjusted ratios: 1.34*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 1.04; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.17.

District: Tenth Circuit: 

District: Colorado; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 1.07; 
Unadjusted ratios: 2.38*; Adjusted ratios: 3.82*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.64; Adjusted ratios: 
0.76.

District: Kansas; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.41; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.92; Adjusted ratios: 0.96; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.11; Unadjusted ratios: 0.4*; Adjusted ratios: 0.4*.

District: New Mexico; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.15; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.34*; Adjusted ratios: 0.54*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 1.14; Adjusted ratios: 
1.02.

District: Oklahoma Eastern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.06; Unadjusted ratios: 0.13*; Adjusted ratios: 0.11*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.71; Unadjusted ratios: 2.6*; Adjusted ratios: 
3.28*.

District: Oklahoma Northern; Odds on substantial assistance 
departures: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; Adjusted ratios: 0.55*; 
Odds on other downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.27*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.26*.

District: Oklahoma Western; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 0.62*; Adjusted ratios: 0.52*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.15*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.11*.

District: Utah; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.14; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.31*; Adjusted ratios: 0.4*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 1.13; Adjusted ratios: 
1.29.

District: Wyoming; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 0.52; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.15; Adjusted ratios: 0.73; Odds on other downward 
departures: 0.13; Unadjusted ratios: 0.46*; Adjusted ratios: 0.43*.

District: Eleventh Circuit: 

District: Alabama Middle; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
1.23; Unadjusted ratios: 2.74*; Adjusted ratios: 3.84*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.58; Adjusted ratios: 
0.64.

District: Alabama Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.96; Unadjusted ratios: 2.13*; Adjusted ratios: 2.11*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.14*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.15*.

District: Alabama Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.98; Unadjusted ratios: 2.17*; Adjusted ratios: 2.1*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 0.54*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.5*.

District: Florida Middle; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.59; Unadjusted ratios: 1.3*; Adjusted ratios: 1.28*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.36*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.31*.

District: Florida Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.62; Unadjusted ratios: 1.39*; Adjusted ratios: 1.25; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.02; Unadjusted ratios: 0.06*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.05*.

District: Florida Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; Adjusted ratios: 0.44*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.26*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.24*.

District: Georgia Middle; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.64; Unadjusted ratios: 1.42*; Adjusted ratios: 1.88*; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.09; Unadjusted ratios: 0.33*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.31*.

District: Georgia Northern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.43; Unadjusted ratios: 0.96; Adjusted ratios: 0.89; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.55*.

District: Georgia Southern; Odds on substantial assistance departures: 
0.49; Unadjusted ratios: 1.08; Adjusted ratios: 1.09; Odds on other 
downward departures: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.26*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.22*.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: Odds on substantial assistance departures were calculated using 
all cases. Odds on other downward departures were calculated using only 
cases not involving downward departures for substantial assistance. 
Ratios were calculated using the Minnesota district as the referent 
category. Adjusted ratios are from logistic regression models that 
control for offense and offender characteristics.

*Odd ratio coefficients that are significant at the 0.05 level.

[End of table]

Table 10 also shows that for those sentences that do not involve 
substantial assistance departures, other downward departures are 
significantly more likely in 7 districts than in the Minnesota 
district, significantly less likely in 62 districts than in the 
Minnesota district, and no different in the remaining 23 
districts.[Footnote 20] The fact that other downward departures are 15 
times more likely in the California Southern District than in the 
Minnesota district, but less likely by a factor of 0.09 in the South 
Carolina District than in the Minnesota District, implies that such 
departures are 15/0.09 = 167 times as likely in the California Southern 
District as in the South Carolina District.

Tables 11 and 12 pertain to mandatory minimum sentences and show that 
substantial and often significant variation in the likelihood of 
sentences falling below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum 
exists even after controls for differences in offense and offender 
characteristics across circuits and districts. If we focus on the 
adjusted ratios in table 11 first, which estimate the differences among 
circuits after controls, we find that there were some circuits in which 
the odds on sentences falling below an otherwise applicable mandatory 
minimum due to substantial assistance were significantly higher than in 
the Eighth Circuit, and others in which those odds were significantly 
lower.

Table 11: Odds on Mandatory Minimum Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum for Substantial Assistance and 
for Other Reasons, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Circuits, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

Circuit: Eighth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.44; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.36.

Circuit: D.C.; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.42; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.95; Adjusted ratios: 1.54*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.91; Adjusted ratios: 
2.55*.

Circuit: First; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.23; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.53*; Adjusted ratios: 0.67*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.64; Unadjusted ratios: 1.78*; Adjusted ratios: 
0.99.

Circuit: Second; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.51; Unadjusted ratios: 1.16*; Adjusted ratios: 1.7*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.85; Unadjusted ratios: 2.38*; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.53*.

Circuit: Third; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.68; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.53*; Adjusted ratios: 2.29*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.75; Unadjusted ratios: 2.08*; Adjusted ratios: 
1.54*.

Circuit: Fourth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.74*; Adjusted ratios: 0.99; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.64*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.94.

Circuit: Fifth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.25; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.55*; Adjusted ratios: 0.71*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.85; Unadjusted ratios: 2.37*; Adjusted ratios: 
1.17.

Circuit: Sixth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.63; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.43*; Adjusted ratios: 1.74*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.93; Adjusted ratios: 
0.94.

Circuit: Seventh; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.31; Unadjusted ratios: 0.71*; Adjusted ratios: 0.88*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.93; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.01.

Circuit: Ninth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.37; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.83*; Adjusted ratios: 1.04; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 1.21; Unadjusted ratios: 3.37*; Adjusted ratios: 2*.

Circuit: Tenth; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 0.29; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.65*; Adjusted ratios: 0.78*; Odds on falling below 
for other reasons: 0.89; Unadjusted ratios: 2.47*; Adjusted ratios: 
1.25.

Circuit: Eleventh; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.30; Unadjusted ratios: 0.68*; Adjusted ratios: 0.9*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.75; Unadjusted ratios: 2.09*; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.14.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: The odds on sentences falling below for substantial assistance 
were calculated using all cases. The odds on sentences falling below 
for other reasons were calculated using only cases that did not fall 
below for substantial assistance. Ratios were calculated using the 
Eighth Circuit as the referent category. Adjusted ratios are from 
logistic regression models that control for offense and offender 
characteristics.

*Odds ratio coefficients that are significant at the 0.05 level.

[End of table]

The same is true of the likelihood of sentences falling below an 
otherwise applicable mandatory minimum for reasons other than 
substantial assistance. The adjusted ratios in table 11 suggest that 
the biggest difference in the likelihood of mandatory minimum sentences 
falling below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum due to 
substantial assistance involved the Third and First Circuits (such 
sentences were 2.29/0.67=3.4 times more likely in the former circuit 
than in the latter), while the biggest difference in the likelihood of 
mandatory minimum sentences falling below an otherwise applicable 
mandatory minimum for reasons other reasons, such as the safety valve, 
involved the D.C. vs. the Fourth and Sixth Circuits (such sentences 
were 2.55/0.94=2.7 times more likely in the former circuit than in the 
latter two).

Table 12 shows, similarly, that in many districts judges were much more 
likely than in the Minnesota district to issue sentences below a 
mandatory minimum to offenders facing a mandatory minimum, both for 
reasons of substantial assistance and for other reasons; and, at the 
same time, judges in many other districts were less likely to do so, 
overall.

Table 12: Odds on Mandatory Minimum Sentences Falling below an 
Otherwise Applicable Mandatory Minimum for Substantial Assistance and 
for Other Reasons, and Odds Ratios Indicating the Differences between 
Districts, before and after Adjusting for Offense and Offender 
Characteristics:

District: Minnesota; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.37; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.54.

District: D.C. Circuit: 

District: Dist of Columbia; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.42; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.13; Adjusted ratios: 2.78; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; Unadjusted ratios: 1.83.

District: First Circuit: 

District: Maine; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.08; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 2.91*; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.02; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.72; Unadjusted 
ratios: 1.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.70.

District: Massachusetts; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.50; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.34*; Adjusted ratios: 2.55*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.57; Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Unadjusted ratios: 1.03.

District: New Hampshire; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.72; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.94*; Adjusted ratios: 0.69; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.82; Unadjusted ratios: 1.50; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42.

District: Puerto Rico; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.07; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.18*; Adjusted ratios: 0.27*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.65; Unadjusted ratios: 1.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.74.

District: Rhode Island; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.07; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.2*; Adjusted ratios: 0.31; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.63; Unadjusted ratios: 1.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.81.

District: Second Circuit: 

District: Connecticut; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.28; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.75; Adjusted ratios: 3.69*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.57; Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Unadjusted ratios: 3.89*.

District: New York Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.43; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.17; Adjusted ratios: 3.5*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
1.17; Unadjusted ratios: 2.15*; Unadjusted ratios: 1.68.

District: New York Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 2.33; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
6.26*; Adjusted ratios: 2.75*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.98; Unadjusted ratios: 1.8*; Unadjusted ratios: 2.02.

District: New York Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.33; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.88; Adjusted ratios: 6.16*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 
0.80; Unadjusted ratios: 1.48*; Unadjusted ratios: 0.75.

District: New York Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.85; Unadjusted ratios: 2.29*; Adjusted ratios: 1.02; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.43; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.80; Adjusted ratios: 1.34.

District: Vermont; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.19; Unadjusted ratios: 3.19*; Adjusted ratios: 6.71; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.53; Unadjusted ratios: 0.97; Adjusted 
ratios: 3.95.

District: Third Circuit: 

District: Delaware; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.57; Unadjusted ratios: 1.52; Adjusted ratios: 0.43; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 0.53; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.50.

District: New Jersey; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.43; Unadjusted ratios: 1.16; Adjusted ratios: 0.8; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 1.50; Unadjusted ratios: 2.77*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.87.

District: Pennsylvania Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 1.07; Unadjusted ratios: 2.88*; Adjusted ratios: 2.33*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.62; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.13; Adjusted ratios: 1.37.

District: Pennsylvania Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.59; Unadjusted ratios: 1.58*; Adjusted ratios: 0.32*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.60; Adjusted ratios: 4.49*.

District: Pennsylvania Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.45; Unadjusted ratios: 1.2; Adjusted ratios: 1.18; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.36; Unadjusted ratios: 0.66*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.92.

District: Virgin Islands; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.44; Unadjusted ratios: 1.18; Odds on falling below for 
other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61; Adjusted ratios: 0.34.

District: Fourth Circuit: 

District: Maryland; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.40; Unadjusted ratios: 1.07; Adjusted ratios: 0.44*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.87.

District: North Carolina Eastern; Odds on falling below for 
substantial assistance: 0.30; Unadjusted ratios: 0.8; Adjusted ratios: 
0.28*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.15; Unadjusted 
ratios: 0.27*; Adjusted ratios: 0.44.

District: North Carolina Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 0.72*; Adjusted ratios: 0.46*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.15; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.28*; Adjusted ratios: 0.38*.

District: North Carolina Western; Odds on falling below for 
substantial assistance: 0.70; Unadjusted ratios: 1.88*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.53*; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.36; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.66*; Adjusted ratios: 3.04*.

District: South Carolina; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.39; Unadjusted ratios: 1.05; Adjusted ratios: 0.39*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.43*; Adjusted ratios: 0.64.

District: Virginia Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.08; Unadjusted ratios: 0.2*; Adjusted ratios: 0.83; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.5*.

District: Virginia Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.63; Unadjusted ratios: 1.69*; Adjusted ratios: 1.92; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.54*; Adjusted ratios: 0.58.

District: West Virginia Northern; Odds on falling below for 
substantial assistance: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.19*; Adjusted 
ratios: [Empty]; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.15; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.27*; Adjusted ratios: 0.31.

District: West Virginia Southern; Odds on falling below for 
substantial assistance: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 0.37*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.39; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.29; 
Unadjusted ratios: 0.53*; Adjusted ratios: 1.07.

District: Fifth Circuit: 

District: Louisiana Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.53*; Adjusted ratios: 0.57; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.58; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.07; Adjusted ratios: 1.68.

District: Louisiana Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.68; Unadjusted ratios: 1.83; Adjusted ratios: 0.23*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.61; Adjusted ratios: 0.85.

District: Louisiana Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 0.37*; Adjusted ratios: 0.12*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.08; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.14*; Adjusted ratios: 0.24*.

District: Mississippi Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.37; Unadjusted ratios: 1; Adjusted ratios: 0.36*; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 0.49*; 
Adjusted ratios: 2.88*.

District: Mississippi Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.48; Unadjusted ratios: 1.28; Adjusted ratios: 0.27*;
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.45; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.83; Adjusted ratios: 0.34*.

District: Texas Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.12; Unadjusted ratios: 0.33*; Adjusted ratios: 0.39*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.52*; Adjusted ratios: 0.52.

District: Texas Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.88; Adjusted ratios: 0.43*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.40; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.74; Adjusted ratios: 0.63.

District: Texas Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 0.72*; Adjusted ratios: 0.63; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 1.07; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.96*; Adjusted ratios: 0.77.

District: Texas Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 0.59*; Adjusted ratios: 0.45*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 1.44; Unadjusted ratios: 
2.65*; Adjusted ratios: 1.76*.

District: Sixth Circuit: 

District: Kentucky Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 1.10; Unadjusted ratios: 2.97*; Adjusted ratios: 2.46*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.52; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.96; Adjusted ratios: 0.71.

District: Kentucky Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 0.16*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.42*; Adjusted ratios: 0.4*.

District: Michigan Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.67; Unadjusted ratios: 1.79*; Adjusted ratios: 0.85; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.38; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.71*; Adjusted ratios: 0.89.

District: Michigan Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.46; Unadjusted ratios: 1.24; Adjusted ratios: 0.16*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.32; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.58*; Adjusted ratios: 0.79.

District: Ohio Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.73; Unadjusted ratios: 1.96*; Adjusted ratios: 0.85; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.38; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.7*; Adjusted ratios: 1.37.

District: Ohio Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.87; Unadjusted ratios: 2.35*; Adjusted ratios: 0.6; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 0.54*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.59.

District: Tennessee Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.54; Unadjusted ratios: 1.44*; Adjusted ratios: 0.45*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.32; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.59*; Adjusted ratios: 0.57.

District: Tennessee Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.66; Unadjusted ratios: 1.77*; Adjusted ratios: 1.4; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.30; Unadjusted ratios: 0.54*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.65.

District: Tennessee Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.46; Unadjusted ratios: 1.23; Adjusted ratios: 0.69; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 0.4*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.65.

District: Seventh Circuit: 

District: Illinois Central; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.54; Unadjusted ratios: 1.46*; Adjusted ratios: 0.38*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.14; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.27*; Adjusted ratios: 0.37.

District: Illinois Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.45; Unadjusted ratios: 1.2; Adjusted ratios: 0.71; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.71; Unadjusted ratios: 1.30; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.07.

District: Illinois Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.04; Unadjusted ratios: 0.11*; Adjusted ratios: 0.42; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.4*; Adjusted ratios: 0.78.

District: Indiana Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 0.77; Adjusted ratios: 0.59; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.6*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.85.

District: Indiana Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.81; Unadjusted ratios: 2.19*; Adjusted ratios: 0.55; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.39; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.71; Adjusted ratios: 1.49.

District: Wisconsin East; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 0.78; Adjusted ratios: 0.66; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.34; Unadjusted ratios: 0.63*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.77.

District: Wisconsin West; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.10; Unadjusted ratios: 0.28*; Adjusted ratios: 0.09*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.31*; Adjusted ratios: 0.1*.

District: Eighth Circuit: 

District: Arkansas Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.18; Unadjusted ratios: 0.47*; Adjusted ratios: 0.62; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.5*; Adjusted ratios: 0.64.

District: Arkansas Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61; Adjusted ratios: 0.15*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.35; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.64; Adjusted ratios: 0.78.

District: Iowa Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.35; Unadjusted ratios: 0.93; Adjusted ratios: 0.35*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.21; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.39*; Adjusted ratios: 0.75.

District: Iowa Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.43; Unadjusted ratios: 1.15; Adjusted ratios: 0.33*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.42; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.77; Adjusted ratios: 1.02.

District: Missouri Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.48; Unadjusted ratios: 1.3*; Adjusted ratios: 0.6; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.61.

District: Missouri Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 1.12; Unadjusted ratios: 3.02*; Adjusted ratios: 1.29; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.29; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.54*; Adjusted ratios: 0.61.

District: Nebraska; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 0.74*; Adjusted ratios: 0.94; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.39; Unadjusted ratios: 0.73*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.73.

District: North Dakota; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.83; Unadjusted ratios: 2.24*; Adjusted ratios: 1.98; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.50; Adjusted ratios: 0.27.

District: South Dakota; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.30; Unadjusted ratios: 0.82; Adjusted ratios: 0.39; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.43*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.16*.

District: Ninth Circuit: 

District: Alaska; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.24; Unadjusted ratios: 0.64; Adjusted ratios: 0.67; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.38; Unadjusted ratios: 0.70; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.09.

District: Arizona; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.26; Unadjusted ratios: 0.69*; Adjusted ratios: 1.87; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 3.73; Unadjusted ratios: 6.87*; Adjusted 
ratios: 7.5*.

District: California Central; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.42*; Adjusted ratios: 0.53; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.73; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.35; Adjusted ratios: 0.86.

District: California Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.30; Unadjusted ratios: 0.8; Adjusted ratios: 0.77; Odds
on falling below for other reasons: 0.42; Unadjusted ratios: 0.77; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.57.

District: California Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.5*; Adjusted ratios: 1.07; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.60; Unadjusted ratios: 1.11; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.04.

District: California Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.51; Unadjusted ratios: 1.37*; Adjusted ratios: 2.27*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 2.68; Unadjusted ratios: 
4.94*; Adjusted ratios: 2.61*.

District: Guam; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.09; Unadjusted ratios: 2.94*; Adjusted ratios: 1.55; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.72; Unadjusted ratios: 1.33; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.2*.

District: Hawaii; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.49; Unadjusted ratios: 1.31; Adjusted ratios: 1.36; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.56; Unadjusted ratios: 1.03; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.3*.

District: Idaho; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.59; Unadjusted ratios: 1.6; Adjusted ratios: 0.34*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.25; Unadjusted ratios: 0.46; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.07.

District: Montana; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.66; Unadjusted ratios: 1.77*; Adjusted ratios: 0.89; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.22; Unadjusted ratios: 0.41*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.81.

District: Nevada; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.61*; Adjusted ratios: 0.48; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.63; Unadjusted ratios: 1.15; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.65.

District: Northern Mariana Islands; Odds on falling below for 
substantial assistance: 2.00; Unadjusted ratios: 5.37*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.28; Odds on falling below for other reasons: 1.00; 
Unadjusted ratios: 1.84; Adjusted ratios: 0.93.

District: Oregon; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.37; Unadjusted ratios: 1.01; Adjusted ratios: 0.27*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.56; Unadjusted ratios: 1.02; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.66.

District: Washington Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.20; Unadjusted ratios: 0.53*; Adjusted ratios: 0.66; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.70; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.29; Adjusted ratios: 0.73.

District: Washington Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.54; Unadjusted ratios: 1.44*; Adjusted ratios: 1.23; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.69; Unadjusted ratios: 
1.27; Adjusted ratios: 1.48.

District: Tenth Circuit: 

District: Colorado; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
1.07; Unadjusted ratios: 2.89*; Adjusted ratios: 0.68; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.73; Unadjusted ratios: 1.34; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.57.

District: Kansas; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 0.76; Adjusted ratios: 0.3*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 0.51*; Adjusted 
ratios: 0.41*.

District: New Mexico; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.5*; Adjusted ratios: 1; Odds on 
falling below for other reasons: 1.99; Unadjusted ratios: 3.66*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.86.

District: Oklahoma Eastern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.07; Unadjusted ratios: 0.19*; Odds on falling below for 
other reasons: 0.65; Unadjusted ratios: 1.20; Adjusted ratios: 10.79*.

District: Oklahoma Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.26; Unadjusted ratios: 0.71; Adjusted ratios: 0.53; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.24; Unadjusted ratios: 0.45*; 
Adjusted ratios: 1.50.

District: Oklahoma Western; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.21; Unadjusted ratios: 0.56*; Adjusted ratios: 0.88; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.29*; Adjusted ratios: 0.22*.

District: Utah; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.19; Unadjusted ratios: 0.51*; Odds on falling below for other 
reasons: 1.05; Unadjusted ratios: 1.92*; Adjusted ratios: 2.50.

District: Wyoming; Odds on falling below for substantial assistance: 
0.37; Unadjusted ratios: 1; Adjusted ratios: 0.18*; Odds on falling 
below for other reasons: 0.42; Unadjusted ratios: 0.77; Adjusted 
ratios: 1.19.

District: Eleventh Circuit: 

District: Alabama Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.91; Unadjusted ratios: 2.45*; Adjusted ratios: 0.46*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.34; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.62; Adjusted ratios: 1.81.

District: Alabama Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.59; Unadjusted ratios: 1.59*; Adjusted ratios: 0.63; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.49*; Adjusted ratios: 0.75.

District: Alabama Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.69; Unadjusted ratios: 1.85*; Adjusted ratios: 0.75; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.27; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.49*; Adjusted ratios: 0.3*.

District: Florida Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.38; Unadjusted ratios: 1.03; Adjusted ratios: 0.46*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.44; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.82; Adjusted ratios: 0.68.

District: Florida Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.49; Unadjusted ratios: 1.32; Adjusted ratios: 1.63; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.16; Unadjusted ratios: 0.3*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.79.

District: Florida Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.17; Unadjusted ratios: 0.44*; Adjusted ratios: 0.56; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 1.56; Unadjusted ratios: 
2.87*; Adjusted ratios: 1.12.

District: Georgia Middle; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.33; Unadjusted ratios: 0.88; Adjusted ratios: 0.2*; Odds 
on falling below for other reasons: 0.21; Unadjusted ratios: 0.39*; 
Adjusted ratios: 0.23*.

District: Georgia Northern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.28; Unadjusted ratios: 0.75*; Adjusted ratios: 0.26*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.47; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.86; Adjusted ratios: 1.11.

District: Georgia Southern; Odds on falling below for substantial 
assistance: 0.23; Unadjusted ratios: 0.62*; Adjusted ratios: 0.18*; 
Odds on falling below for other reasons: 0.12; Unadjusted ratios: 
0.21*; Adjusted ratios: 0.25*.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: The odds on sentences falling below for substantial assistance 
were calculated using all cases. The odds on sentences falling below 
for other reasons were calculated using only cases that did not fall 
below for substantial assistance. Ratios were calculated using the 
Minnesota District as the referent category. Adjusted ratios are from 
logistic regression models that control for offense and offender 
characteristics.

*Odd ratio coefficients that are significant at the 0.05 level.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix IV: Data for Analyzing Departures and Mandatory Minimum 
Sentences at Circuit and District Court Levels Limited:

Overall, the data the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) has received 
from district courts and judges were generally sufficient for our 
analyses of downward departures and mandatory minimum sentences across 
circuits and for most districts. Missing data due to missing sentencing 
documents or information posed few limitations for our analysis. 
However, opportunities for improvement exist.

Documents USSC Requests from District Courts:

Under the authority of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, USSC required 
courts to forward to it the following five sentencing documents in 
every guidelines case.[Footnote 21] The PROTECT Act of 2003 codifies 
this data collection requirement:

* the Judgment and Commitment Order (J&C);

* the Statement of Reasons (SOR);

* the Pre-sentence Report (PSR);

* any written plea agreements, if applicable; and:

* all indictments or other charging documents.

Under the PROTECT Act, courts are to send to USSC a "Report of 
Sentence" enclosing the required sentencing documents within 30 days of 
a judgment, and the Chief Judge in every district is to ensure that 
their courts do so.[Footnote 22]

How USSC Uses Documents to Create Its Database:

Of the five sentencing documents submitted by district courts, USSC 
officials told us they rely primarily on the J&C, SOR, and PSR to 
obtain the sentencing information that USSC staff code into USSC 
database. From the J&C, USSC obtains data on the sentence, including 
the number of months of any imprisonment, the statute of conviction, 
and whether any mandatory minimum sentence applied. USSC officials also 
said that they rely almost exclusively on the SOR to obtain data on the 
basis for the sentence, such as whether the sentence imposed fell 
within or outside the applicable sentencing guidelines range as 
determined by the court, the reason(s) for any departure, and whether a 
substantial assistance motion or safety valve adjustment was used. If 
the SOR is missing, USSC coding procedures have required document 
analysts to record the departure status as missing, although other 
documents, such as the plea agreement, may have information that 
indicate whether and why the sentence departed. USSC is initiating some 
changes in its coding procedures as discussed below. From the PSR, 
which is drafted by a district probation officer, USSC obtains 
demographic and other background information about offenders, an 
initial sentencing recommendation according to the guidelines, and 
other sentencing information such as whether the offense of conviction 
had a mandatory minimum (should this information not be noted in the 
J&C), and whether the safety valve could potentially be applied (in 
certain limited circumstances where this information has not been 
recorded in a SOR).

USSC Receives Most of Requested Sentencing Documents:

Our analysis shows that district courts provided these five sentencing 
documents to USSC for the great majority of drug sentences imposed in 
fiscal years 1999-2001. Of 72,283 drug sentences imposed during this 
period, district courts submitted between 96 and 99 percent of the 
three key sentencing documents-the J&C (99 percent), SOR (96 percent), 
and PSR (98 percent)--from which USSC obtains sentencing data. 
According to USSC data, a lower percentage of plea agreements (89 
percent) and indictments (87 percent) were submitted during this time 
period. During the period of our review, USSC did not primarily rely on 
these two documents for departure information. Table 13 shows, by 
circuit, the percentage of each type of sentencing document USSC did 
not receive in fiscal years 1999-2001.

Table 13: Percent of Missing Drug Sentencing Documents, by Circuit, as 
Shown in USSC's Database for Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Sentencing documents: Judgment and commitment order; National average: 
0.7%; D.C.: 2.0%; First: 0.2%; Second: 0.8%; Third: 1.1%; Fourth: 1.4%; 
Fifth: 0.5%; Sixth: 0.5%; Seventh: 0.3%; Eighth: 0.4%; Ninth: 1.0%; 
Tenth: 0.4%; Eleventh: 0.6%.

Sentencing documents: Statement of reasons; National average: 3.7%; 
D.C.: 0.5%; First: 4.9%; Second: 5%; Third: 1.4%; Fourth: 7.4%; Fifth: 
1.6%; Sixth: 1.9%; Seventh: 2.5%; Eighth: 1.3%; Ninth: 6.6%; Tenth: 
4.5%; Eleventh: 2.4%.

Sentencing documents: Presentence report; National average: 1.5%; D.C.: 
1.3%; First: 2.3%; Second: 1.8%; Third: 1.8%; Fourth: 1.7%; Fifth: 
1.2%; Sixth: 1.3%; Seventh: 2.3%; Eighth: 1.1%; Ninth: 1.6%; Tenth: 
1.8%; Eleventh: 0.9%.

Sentencing documents: Plea agreement; National average: 11%; D.C.: 33%; 
First: 12%; Second: 50%; Third: 5%; Fourth: 7%; Fifth: 9%; Sixth: 7%; 
Seventh: 8%; Eighth: 5%; Ninth: 8%; Tenth: 9%; Eleventh: 9%.

Sentencing documents: Indictment; National average: 13%; D.C.: 39%; 
First: 3%; Second: 75%; Third: 32%; Fourth: 10%; Fifth: 5%; Sixth: 3%; 
Seventh: 20%; Eighth: 3%; Ninth: 5%; Tenth: 6%; Eleventh: 7%.

Source: GAO analysis of UUSC data.

[End of table]

Among the 12 circuits, the rate of missing SORs--the principal document 
used to determine the reason for a sentencing departure--ranged from 
less than 1 percent to about 7 percent. Two of the 4 circuits in which 
the highest number of drug sentences were imposed were also missing the 
highest percent of their SORs-the 9th Circuit at 6.6 percent and the 
Fourth Circuit at 7.4 percent. A circuit's average can mask wide 
differences among the districts within the circuit. For example, the 
percentages of missing SORs among districts in the Ninth Circuit ranged 
from less than 1 percent to 58 percent and in the Fourth Circuit from 
less than 1 percent to 20 percent.

USSC Takes Steps to Reduce Missing Document Rate:

USSC reviews the documents it receives from the district courts and 
annually sends a letter to each district court identifying the cases in 
which documents appear to be missing. Additionally, in its annual 
report, USSC discloses the overall document submission rate for all 
criminal cases for the J&C, SOR, and PSR documents. USSC also attempts 
to identify guidelines cases for which the courts may not have 
submitted any sentencing documents. By linking data from a database 
maintained by AOUSC with the data on cases in its database, USSC 
develops a list of cases for which it has not yet received 
documentation. USSC sends this list of cases to the relevant district 
courts and asks them to review the list and forward any documents USSC 
should have received.

Missing or Difficult to Interpret Information Can Affect Analysis of 
Departures:

In addition to missing sentencing documents, the documents USSC 
received in fiscal years 1999-2001 had missing information or 
information that was difficult to interpret. As shown in table 14, 
among the circuits departure data were missing for 1 percent to 7 
percent of drug sentences imposed in fiscal years 1999-2001. In 
addition, for 4 percent to 15 percent of sentences, information was 
missing on whether the safety value was used as the basis for 
sentencing below a mandatory minimum.

Table 14: Percent of Missing Drug Sentencing Information on Documents 
USSC Received, by Circuit, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Sentencing information: Departure information; National average: 4%; 
D.C.: 3%; First: 5%; Second: 5%; Third: 2%; Fourth: 8%; Fifth: 2%; 
Sixth: 2%; Seventh: 3%; Eighth: 1%; Ninth: 7%; Tenth: 5%; Eleventh: 3%.

Sentencing information: Safety valve applied; National average: 8%; 
D.C.: 11%; First: 10%; Second: 10%; Third: 13%; Fourth: 15%; Fifth: 4%; 
Sixth: 5%; Seventh: 7%; Eighth: 6%; Ninth: 12%; Tenth: 7%; Eleventh: 
4%.

Source: GAO analysis of UUSC data.

[End of table]

Nationally, of the 72,283 federal drug sentence imposed in fiscal years 
1999-2001, 3,004 (4 percent) were coded as missing information 
necessary to determine whether the sentence departed from an applicable 
guideline range. Of these, 2,118 sentences were missing information 
because the SOR had not been received, and for 570, the SOR was 
received but did not include departure information.

Missing or unclear data also limited our ability to determine when the 
safety valve was used as the basis for sentencing below an otherwise 
applicable mandatory minimum. For example, in our preliminary analysis, 
we found that of the 11,256 federal drug sentences for which the 
offense of conviction carried a mandatory minimum and fell below that 
minimum, about 1,600 (14 percent) were coded by USSC as falling below 
the applicable mandatory minimum but not involving either the safety 
valve or substantial assistance. We discussed this issue with USSC. 
After reviewing the underlying documents used for coding these 1,600 
sentences, USSC determined that over 900 sentences were miscoded. These 
miscoded sentences were recoded in a variety of ways, including some 
coded as involving the safety valve, some coded as involving 
substantial assistance, some coded as having a changed drug quantity 
that affected the applicable mandatory minimum, and some coded as 
missing safety valve information. USSC did not recode 681 sentences; 
these sentences remained coded as falling below a mandatory minimum but 
involving neither the safety valve nor substantial assistance. In 
addition, safety valve information was determined to be missing from 
770 sentences for which the offense of conviction carried and fell 
below a mandatory minimum. A USSC official said that there is no 
specific prompt on the SOR asking for information on the application of 
the safety valve or whether the offense of conviction carried a 
mandatory minimum.

On the basis of our analysis, missing or incomplete sentencing 
information is unlikely to affect analyses nationally or by circuit but 
could affect the analysis of departures in districts where the missing 
documents or information are concentrated. Missing or incomplete 
sentencing information may also affect USSC's records for individual 
judges and thus USSC's ability to provide accurate judge-specific 
sentencing analysis were Congress to request this information under the 
auspices of the PROTECT Act.

USSC Actions to Improve Coding:

USSC officials told us that they have not generally followed-up with 
district courts to obtain information that is missing from submitted 
documents or is unclear (e.g., whether the safety valve provision was 
the basis for a sentence below an applicable mandatory minimum). USSC 
staff does not use information from one document to substitute for 
missing or unclear information in another document. As a result of 
coding issues we identified during this review, USSC plans to implement 
new quality control and review procedures for sentences where 
information on the SOR is missing, incomplete, or unclear. These 
include identifying common errors for coding staff, using technology to 
develop automatic edit checks for apparently contradictory coding 
information for a sentence (e.g., those below an applicable mandatory 
minimum whose reason for departure is not substantial assistance or the 
safety valve), and having a staff attorney review sentences in which 
the coding supervisor is unable to determine the appropriate coding.

Multiple Reasons Cited for Missing Documentation and Information:

Officials from USSC, the AOUSC, and the Judicial Conference Committee 
on Criminal Law cited several reasons that sentencing documents or 
information on sentencing documents were missing. First, USSC and AOUSC 
officials told us that some judges do not provide all the documents, in 
part because judges may be unclear whether documents under court seal 
or that pertain to individuals in the federal witness protection 
program are to be forwarded to USSC.

Second, USSC relies almost exclusively on the SOR to determine whether 
the sentence departed, met a mandatory minimum, or involved substantial 
assistance. If the SOR is missing, USSC's coding procedures require 
document analysts to record the departure status as missing, even if 
other documents, such as the plea agreement, suggests that a departure 
may by recommended by the government. As a result, incomplete 
information prevents USSC from collecting some sentencing data, as 
illustrated below by two examples drawn from drug sentences imposed 
during fiscal years 1999-2001:

* In one case, the SOR did not indicate the reason the court sentenced 
the offender to 97 months--a sentence below the applicable 10-year (120 
month) mandatory minimum. Without this information on the SOR, under 
the coding conventions used, USSC document analysts could not record 
substantial assistance as the reason that the sentence of 97 months 
fell below a mandatory minimum even though the plea agreement (prepared 
by the parties) and the PSR (prepared by the probation officer) 
indicated that a substantial assistance motion was to have been made.

* In another case, the SOR stated that the court was crediting the 
offender for time served but failed to state the specific amount of 
time being credited. Unable to determine the amount of time being 
credited, and thus the sentence length being imposed, USSC document 
analysts could not determine whether the sentence departed or met an 
applicable mandatory minimum.

Third, judges report the information using different versions of the 
SOR forms that can make consistent interpretation more difficult. For 
example, some jurisdictions provide one-page, single-spaced narratives 
that report the sentence and, in rare cases, others provide a 
transcript of the sentencing hearing instead of an SOR. According to 
USSC officials, interpreting multiple forms that report sentencing 
information in different ways and in different locations complicates 
the process of coding sentencing data such as departure status and use 
of the safety valve and may lead to missing sentencing information. 
USSC officials stated the single most effective step towards improving 
the completeness of data the courts report and USSC's ability to code 
it would be the increased use of a standard SOR. The Judicial 
Conference at its September 2003 meeting accepted revisions to the 
standard SOR. The Conference designated the revised form as the 
mechanism by which courts comply with the requirements of the PROTECT 
Act to report reasons for sentences to USSC. The Committee plans to 
encourage judges to use it through education about the benefits of its 
use, but the Chair of the Committee stated that the Committee does not 
believe it has the authority to require the use of the new SOR. 
Officials from AOUSC and the Committee said they believe that with 
additional education judges will routinely use the new standard SOR, 
resulting in more useful and higher quality data reported to USSC.

Last, according to officials from AOUSC and the Criminal Law Committee, 
judges and other court officials lack an awareness of how to complete 
the SORs with a level of detail that would allow USSC to collect 
sentencing information. The Committee official said that education for 
judges and other court officials is needed on how to properly complete 
the SOR. In addition, no feedback mechanism is in place to inform 
judges that information on the SOR was incomplete or unclear to USSC 
and, therefore, cases are coded as missing sentencing information. 
Although USSC contacts the courts to request missing sentencing 
documents be submitted, it does not provide a similar list of documents 
that contained information coded as missing. Without knowing which 
cases are coded as missing sentencing information, judges cannot 
clarify or complete information needed by USSC.

While USSC and the Federal Judicial Center offer programs and workshops 
on application of the guidelines to judges and other court officials, 
no education programs are provided on how to complete the SOR in ways 
that provide clear, complete information. Officials from USSC, AOUSC, 
and Criminal Law Committee said that education on how to apply 
increasingly complex guidelines has been their focus, not educating 
judges and other officials to correctly complete the SOR. Officials 
also said that in the future it would be possible to provide programs 
at judicial workshops or through the Federal Judicial Center that 
educates judges and other court officials on how to provide clear, 
complete reports on sentencing.

Other Downward Departures Do Not Solely Reflect Judicial Discretion:

The category "other downward departures" generally thought to represent 
judicial discretion may also reflect downward departures resulting from 
prosecutorial discretion and initiative. In this report we classified 
departures as either "substantial assistance" or "other downward" 
departures. Substantial assistance departures can be viewed as a 
measure of prosecutorial discretion because only the prosecutor has the 
authority to initiate and recommend to the court that an offender be 
given a reduced sentence for substantial assistance to the prosecution. 
Neither the judge nor defense counsel may do so. The remaining 
departures, "other downward departures," are generally considered to be 
an indication of judicial discretion. AOUSC officials suggested, 
however, that the category "other downward departures" provides an 
imprecise measure of judicial discretion. For example, AOUSC officials 
noted that some departures classified in USSC database as other 
departures may actually arise from agreements, particularly plea 
bargains, that either were initiated or supported by the government. We 
did not confirm this statement with federal prosecutors. USSC documents 
in its database up to three reasons judges provide for an other 
downward departure. According to USSC database for drug sentences in 
fiscal years 1999-2001, the first reason provided for an other downward 
departure in 18 percent of the sentences was the government's fast 
track programs;[Footnote 23] in 16 percent, plea agreement; and in 4 
percent, deportation. Tables 15, 16, and 17 detail for drug sentences 
the number and percent of other downward departures associated with the 
first, second, and third reasons provided for those departures.

Table 15: First Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

First reason: No Reason given; Number of other downward departures: 16; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5G1.3) Convictions on related counts; Number of other 
downward departures: 10; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (5H1.1) Age; Number of other downward departures: 40; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5H1.2) Educational and vocational skills; Number of 
other downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5H1.3) Mental and emotional conditions; Number of other 
downward departures: 55; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 1%.

First reason: (5H1.4) Physical condition; Number of other downward 
departures: 223; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 2%.

First reason: (5H1.4) Drug dependence and alcohol abuse; Number of 
other downward departures: 21; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5H1.5) Previous employment record; Number of other 
downward departures: 5; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (5H1.6) Family ties and responsibilities; Number of other 
downward departures: 360; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 3%.

First reason: (5H1.6) Community ties; Number of other downward 
departures: 14; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (5K1.1) Substantial assistance at motion; Number of other 
downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: not 5K1.1 Cooperation without motion; Number of other 
downward departures: 30; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: Cooperation (motion unknown); Number of other downward 
departures: 34; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (5K2.0) Several persons injured; Number of other downward 
departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: (5K2.2) Physical injury; Number of other downward 
departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: (5K2.3) Extreme psychological injury; Number of other 
downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (5K2.6) Weapons and dangerous instrumentalities; Number 
of other downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures 
for drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5K2.10) Victim's conduct; Number of other downward 
departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: (5K2.11) Lesser harm; Number of other downward 
departures: 4; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: (5K2.12) Coercion and duress; Number of other downward 
departures: 74; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 1%.

First reason: (5K2.13) Diminished capacity; Number of other downward 
departures: 207; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 2%.

First reason: Fast Track - Immigration; Number of other downward 
departures: 1,969; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 18%.

First reason: (2A1.1) Death not caused intentionally; Number of other 
downward departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (2A6.1) Factors not incorporated in guideline; Number of 
other downward departures: 4; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: (2D1.1) Unusually high drug amount; Number of other 
downward departures: 16; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (2Q1.2, 2Q1.3) Harm resulting from risk; Number of other 
downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: (4A1.3) Pattern of conduct; Number of other downward 
departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: (4A1.3) Pending cases; Number of other downward 
departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: General adequacy of criminal history; does not reflect 
seriousness of criminal history; Number of other downward departures: 
7; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Significance or similarity of past conduct; Number of 
other downward departures: 6; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: Criminal history category over-represents the defendant's 
involvement; Number of other downward departures: 1,169; Percent of 
other downward departures for drug sentences: 11%.

First reason: Pursuant to a plea agreement; Number of other downward 
departures: 1,680; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 16%.

First reason: Due to stipulations; Number of other downward departures: 
10; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Other plea agreement reason; Number of other downward 
departures: 1; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Mule/Role in the offense; Number of other downward 
departures: 89; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 1%.

First reason: Deportation; Number of other downward departures: 472; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 4%.

First reason: Local conditions; Number of other downward departures: 4; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Adequate punishment to meet the purposes of sentencing; 
Number of other downward departures: 82; Percent of other downward 
departures for drug sentences: 1%.

First reason: Deterrence; Number of other downward departures: 36; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Prey to other inmates; Number of other downward 
departures: 3; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Guidelines do not reflect the seriousness of the offense; 
Number of other downward departures: 8; Percent of other downward 
departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: No prior record/first offender; Number of other downward 
departures: 6; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Put defendant's sentence in line with co-defendant's. 
Reduce disparity.; Number of other downward departures: 9; Percent of 
other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Lack of culpability/accountability of defendant; Number 
of other downward departures: 5; Percent of other downward departures 
for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Time or cost involved in the investigation; Number of 
other downward departures: 3; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: Acceptance of responsibility; Number of other downward 
departures: 91; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 1%.

First reason: Limited/minor prior record; Number of other downward 
departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Rehabilitation; Number of other downward departures: 191; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 2%.

First reason: Restitution; Number of other downward departures: 2; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Incapacitation; Number of other downward departures: 4; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Sufficient punishment; Number of other downward 
departures: 23; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: Nature/seriousness of the offense; Number of other 
downward departures: 5; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: *.

First reason: First felony conviction; Number of other downward 
departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Dollar amount involved in crime (general); Number of 
other downward departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: Currently receiving punishment under state or federal 
jurisdiction; Number of other downward departures: 1; Percent of other 
downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Defendant's positive background/good character; Number of 
other downward departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: Military record; Number of other downward departures: 1; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Not representative of the "heartland"; Number of other 
downward departures: 93; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 1%.

First reason: Guidelines too high/offense level over-represented; 
Number of other downward departures: 2; Percent of other downward 
departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Guidelines too low/offense level under-represented; 
Number of other downward departures: 1; Percent of other downward 
departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5K2.0) General aggravating or mitigating circumstance; 
Number of other downward departures: 1,671; Percent of other downward 
departures for drug sentences: 15%.

First reason: Other (SPECIFY); Number of other downward departures: 
804; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 7%.

First reason: Defendant is a law enforcement officer or ex-law 
enforcement officer; Number of other downward departures: 1; Percent of 
other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Offense behavior was an isolated incident; Number of 
other downward departures: 995; Percent of other downward departures 
for drug sentences: 9%.

First reason: Lower sentence gives defendant a chance to be a 
productive member of society; Number of other downward departures: 1; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: (5K2.16) Voluntary disclosure; Number of other downward 
departures: 7; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Lack of youthful guidance; Number of other downward 
departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: 
*.

First reason: Delay in prosecution; evidentiary concerns; Number of 
other downward departures: 2; Percent of other downward departures for 
drug sentences: *.

First reason: Time served; Number of other downward departures: 28; 
Percent of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Child abuse (child abuse/battered child syndrome); Number 
of other downward departures: 4; Percent of other downward departures 
for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Remorse; Number of other downward departures: 2; Percent 
of other downward departures for drug sentences: *.

First reason: Missing/indeterminable; Number of other downward 
departures: 191; Percent of other downward departures for drug 
sentences: 2%.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: These percentages are based on 10,891 drug sentences imposed 
during fiscal years 1999-2001 for which departure information is 
available and the sentence was coded an other downward departure. USSC 
codes up to three reasons provided by judges as the bases for 
departing.

*Less than 1 percent.

[End of table]

Table 16: Second Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Second reason: (Second Reason field left blank); Number of drug 
sentences: 8,986; Percent of drug sentences: 82%.

Second reason: No reason given; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.1) Age; Number of drug sentences: 20; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.2) Educational and vocational skills; Number of 
drug sentences: 2; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.3) Mental and emotional conditions; Number of drug 
sentences: 34; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.4) Physical condition; Number of drug sentences: 
71; Percent of drug sentences: 1%.

Second reason: (5H1.4) Drug dependence and alcohol abuse; Number of 
drug sentences: 7; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.5) Previous employment record; Number of drug 
sentences: 4; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5H1.6) Family ties and responsibilities; Number of drug 
sentences: 105; Percent of drug sentences: 1%.

Second reason: (5H1.6) Community ties; Number of drug sentences: 3; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: not 5K1.1 Cooperation without motion; Number of drug 
sentences: 7; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Cooperation (motion unknown); Number of drug sentences: 
4; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5K2.10) Victim's conduct; Number of drug sentences: 1; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5K2.12) Coercion and duress; Number of drug sentences: 
15; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5K2.13) Diminished capacity; Number of drug sentences: 
34; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Fast Track - Immigration; Number of drug sentences: 206; 
Percent of drug sentences: 2%.

Second reason: (2A6.1) Factors not incorporated in guideline; Number of 
drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (2D1.1) Unusually high drug purity; Number of drug 
sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (2D1.1) Unusually high drug amount; Number of drug 
sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Significance or similarity of past conduct; Number of 
drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Criminal history category over-represents the 
defendant's involvement; Number of drug sentences: 72; Percent of drug 
sentences: 1%.

Second reason: (4B1.1) Career offender; Number of drug sentences: 1; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Pursuant to a plea agreement; Number of drug sentences: 
61; Percent of drug sentences: 1%.

Second reason: Due to stipulations; Number of drug sentences: 2; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Other plea agreement reason; Number of drug sentences: 
1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Mule/role in the offense; Number of drug sentences: 44; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Deportation; Number of drug sentences: 39; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Local conditions; Number of drug sentences: 3; Percent 
of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Adequate punishment to meet the purposes of sentencing; 
Number of drug sentences: 9; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Deterrence; Number of drug sentences: 13; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Charge/plea does not reflect the seriousness of the 
offense; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: No prior record/first offender; Number of drug 
sentences: 7; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Put defendant's sentence in line with codefendant's. 
Reduce disparity.; Number of drug sentences: 4; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Second reason: Lack of culpability/accountability of defendant; Number 
of drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Lack of available facilities/overcrowding; Number of 
drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Time or cost involved in the investigation; Number of 
drug sentences: 2; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Acceptance of responsibility; Number of drug sentences: 
18; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Rehabilitation; Number of drug sentences: 46; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Incapacitation; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Sufficient punishment; Number of drug sentences: 12; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: First felony conviction; Number of drug sentences: 1; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Defendant's positive background/good character; Number 
of drug sentences: 2; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Military record; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Not representative of the "heartland"; Number of drug 
sentences: 18; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: (5K2.0) General aggravating or mitigating circumstance; 
Number of drug sentences: 282; Percent of drug sentences: 3%.

Second reason: Other (SPECIFY); Number of drug sentences: 160; Percent 
of drug sentences: 1%.

Second reason: Unknown; Number of drug sentences: 2; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Second reason: Offense behavior was an isolated incident; Number of 
drug sentences: 567; Percent of drug sentences: 5%.

Second reason: (5K2.16) Voluntary disclosure; Number of drug sentences: 
1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Lack of youthful guidance; Number of drug sentences: 6; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Time served; Number of drug sentences: 2; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Child abuse (child abuse/battered child syndrome); 
Number of drug sentences: 3; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Second reason: Missing/indeterminable; Number of drug sentences: 4; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: These percentages are based on 10,891 drug sentences imposed 
during fiscal years 1999-2001 for which departure information is 
available and the sentence was coded an other downward departure. USSC 
codes up to three reasons provided by judges as the bases for 
departing.

*Less than 1 percent.

[End of table]

Table 17: Third Reason Provided by Judges for Other Downward Departure 
in Drug Sentences Nationwide, Fiscal Years 1999-2001:

Third reason: (Third Reason field left blank); Number of drug 
sentences: 10,705; Percent of drug sentences: 98%.

Third reason: (5H1.1) Age; Number of drug sentences: 7; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Third reason: (5H1.2) Educational and vocational skills; Number of drug 
sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5H1.3) Mental and emotional conditions; Number of drug 
sentences: 4; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5H1.4) Physical condition; Number of drug sentences: 15; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5H1.5) Previous employment record; Number of drug 
sentences: 3; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5H1.6) Family ties and responsibilities; Number of drug 
sentences: 20; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Cooperation (motion unknown); Number of drug sentences: 
2; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5K2.11) Lesser harm; Number of drug sentences: 1; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5K2.12) Coercion and duress; Number of drug sentences: 
3; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5K2.13) Diminished capacity; Number of drug sentences: 
6; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Fast Track - Immigration; Number of drug sentences: 5; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (2D1.1) Unusually high drug amount; Number of drug 
sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Criminal history category over-represents the defendant's 
involvement; Number of drug sentences: 9; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Pursuant to a plea agreement; Number of drug sentences: 
6; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Mule/role in the offense; Number of drug sentences: 8; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Deportation; Number of drug sentences: 3; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Third reason: Local conditions; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Deterrence; Number of drug sentences: 3; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Third reason: No prior record/first offender; Number of drug sentences: 
3; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Put defendant's sentence in line with codefendant's. 
Reduce disparity; Number of drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug 
sentences: *.

Third reason: Acceptance of responsibility; Number of drug sentences: 
3; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Rehabilitation; Number of drug sentences: 12; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Incapacitation; Number of drug sentences: 7; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Defendant's positive background/good character; Number of 
drug sentences: 1; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Not representative of the "heartland"; Number of drug 
sentences: 6; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: (5K2.0) General aggravating or mitigating circumstance; 
Number of drug sentences: 17; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Other (SPECIFY); Number of drug sentences: 13; Percent of 
drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Offense behavior was an isolated incident; Number of drug 
sentences: 24; Percent of drug sentences: *.

Third reason: Lack of youthful guidance; Number of drug sentences: 1; 
Percent of drug sentences: *.

Source: GAO analysis of USSC data.

Note: These percentages are based on 10,891 drug sentences imposed 
during fiscal years 1999-2001 for which departure information is 
available and the sentence was coded an other downward departure. USSC 
codes up to three reasons provided by judges as the bases for 
departing.

*Less than 1 percent.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix V: Comments from U.S. Sentencing Commission:

October 9, 2003:

William O. Jenkins, Jr.

Director, Homeland Security and Justice General Accounting Office 
Washington, DC 20548:

Dear Mr. Jenkins:

The United States Sentencing Commission appreciates the opportunity to 
comment on the General Accounting Office's proposed report entitled 
"Federal Drug Sentences: Departures from Sentencing Guidelines and 
Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Fiscal Years 1999-2000, GAO-04-105." We 
have read the report with interest. It shows your staff's understanding 
and appreciation of the complexities of the federal sentencing system. 
It also demonstrates what challenging work the Sentencing Commission 
faces in creating a comprehensive database of federal sentencing.

In reviewing the draft report, we noticed that where geographical 
differences in departure rates are discussed in the GAO report, the 
significant impact of "fast track" programs on the departure rates in 
some judicial districts, particularly along the southwest borders, does 
not appear to be fully discussed. The Sentencing Commission is also 
completing a report on departures, pursuant to a congressional 
directive in the PROTECT Act, and will address this impact in its 
analysis of departures, subject of course to limitations in the data.

GAO's suggested measures to improve our dataset are helpful and 
consistent with our own thinking. Such measures may exceed our current 
resource capacities, however. The annual collection, coding, and 
analysis of over 60,000 case files representing the nation's federal 
criminal docket is an extensive undertaking managed by fewer than 30 
Sentencing Commission employees. Since enactment of the PROTECT Act, 
the Sentencing Commission has observed a noticeable increase in the 
volume of sentencing documents it receives. The quality control 
measures currently in place, including the data match system described 
in the GAO report, are strained under the influx of documents. 
Moreover, in light of the greater level of detail required for each 
case under the PROTECT Act, further improvements to the Sentencing 
Commission's internal data quality control will have to be made, 
including additional measures to obtain incomplete information or to 
clarify conflicting information.

As recommended in the GAO report, the Sentencing Commission is working 
to develop standardized, more detailed sentencing documentation, to 
improve procedures for submitting sentencing information to the 
Sentencing Commission, and to increase education of sentencing courts 
and court personnel on the importance of providing complete and 
accurate sentencing information. This outreach, however, will also need 
additional resources.

Sincerely,

Judge Diana E. Murphy: 
 
Chair:

cc: Commissioners:

Signed by Diana E. Murphy: 

[End of section]

Appendix VI: Comments from the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal 
Law:

Copy of testimony is not included.

COMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL LAW of the JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED 
STATES 9535 
Bob Casey United States Courthouse 
515 Rusk Avenue Houston, Texas 77002:

Honorable Donetta W. Ambrose: 	
Honorable William M. Came, Jr.: 	
Honorable William F. Downes:
Honorable Richard A. Enslen: 	
Honorable David F. Hamilton: 
Honorable Henry M. Herlong, Jr.: 
Honorable James B. Loken: 
Honorable A. David Mazzone:  
Honorable William T. Moore, Jr.:  
Honorable Norman A. Mordue:  
Honorable Wm. Fremming Nielsen:  
Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan:
Honorable Sim Lake, Chair:

October 10, 2003:

Mr. William O. Jenkins, Jr.

Director, Homeland Security and Justice : 
United States General Accounting Office 441 G Street, NW:

Washington, DC 20548:

Dear Mr. Jenkins:

Thank you for the opportunity for the Judicial Conference Committee on 
Criminal Law to comment on the General Accounting Office (GAO) draft 
report entitled Federal Drug Offenses: Departures from Sentencing 
Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences, 1999-2001. It is apparent 
that a great deal of work went into your study of sentencing data for 
drug-related offenses. It is also apparent that the report does not 
answer a question that has been raised by some regarding the extent to 
which judges themselves, absent a prosecutor's request, have imposed 
sentences that fall below the sentencing guideline range. Appendix IV 
of the report does, however, contain critical information that 
demonstrates that at least 90 percent of downward departures are fairly 
attributable to prosecution initiatives and that judges are not 
exercising departure authority in violation of the letter or the spirit 
of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

As you know, in its annual reports, the United States Sentencing 
Commission presents data on the percentage of offenders receiving 
downward departures. The Commission presents this data in only two 
categories. One category is pursuant to "substantial assistance" 
motions filed by the government. The other category is simply called 
"other downward" departures, and it covers a variety of reasons for 
departures.

The overly general categorization of "other departures" is not a 
meaningful way to analyze sentencing actions. Moreover, this approach 
to reporting the data has resulted in confusion, misinformation, and 
misuse by some who mistakenly infer that all "other downward" 
departures are attributable to judges. Indeed, some have suggested 
that the data show that judges are abusing their departure authority.
This misinterpretation of the facts may have prompted the enactment of 
the PROTECT Act.

The report correctly concludes, however, that although sufficient data 
are not available to accurately identify the reasons for departures in 
every case, the information available in the Sentencing Commission's 
database is sufficient to demonstrate that at least 38 percent of the 
other reasons for departures are attributable to plea agreements, fast-
track or early disposition programs, and deportation actions that are 
prosecutor-initiated or supported. Current data cannot show the exact 
percentage of downward departures attributable solely to the courts. 
But, the results of the GAO study verify that the percentage of 
downward departures made over the objection of the government is very 
low. Moreover, less than one-half of one percent of these cases between 
1999-2001 have been appealed by the government.

When other downward departures initiated and supported by prosecutors 
are considered together with substantial assistance motions made by the 
government, the proportion of downward departures initiated by the 
prosecutors is well over 90 percent. As noted by one chief judge who 
commented on the report, a large number of "other departures" are 
incorporated into guilty pleas.[NOTE 1] Many of these pleas are 
binding plea agreements under Rule I 1(c)(1)(C). In this kind of plea 
agreement, the court must either accept the stipulated sentence or 
reject the entire plea agreement. Another chief judge noted that 
binding plea agreements are used in lieu of substantial assistance 
motions due to security concerns. It is unfortunate that, prior to the 
enactment of the PROTECT Act, adequate time was not given to study, 
review, and analyze these facts about downward departure practices.

These factors demonstrate that the rate of downward departures that may 
be attributable to judges has remained fairly constant and is 
consistent with the expectation of the framers of the Sentencing Reform 
Act of 1984, who sought to provide a structure for evaluating the 
fairness and appropriateness of the sentence for an individual offender 
and not to eliminate the thoughtful imposition of individualized 
sentences. Many of the provisions of the PROTECT Act, as enacted, 
undermine the basic structure of the sentencing system, give federal 
prosecutors unprecedented power, and make it even more difficult for 
judges to impose just and reasonable sentences as individual 
circumstances and the facts of a case may warrant.

The PROTECT Act is troubling to judges nationwide. Because the 
judiciary and the Sentencing Commission were not consulted in advance 
concerning this legislation, the Judicial Conference of the United 
States voted overwhelmingly at its September 2003 session to support 
repeal of certain sentencing provisions of the PROTECT Act. The GAO 
report's findings demonstrate why consultation was needed. As your data 
analysis confirms, at Appendix I, Table 3, substantial assistance 
agreements are offered by the government to defendants in drug cases 
who have 
higher sentencing guideline offense levels, use weapons, and have 
serious prior criminal records. These are the defendants who often have 
information useful to the government. But, the least culpable, first-
time offenders who have greater potential for rehabilitation, often 
have nothing to offer the government in return for a motion for 
substantial assistance. Without some sentencing flexibility, judges 
would often be required to give harsher sentences to defendants who 
play minor roles. This would result in the very disparity the 
Sentencing Reform Act was intended to eliminate.

The limited data available made it impossible to fully explain why 
sentences varied when comparing districts' and circuits' departure 
rates. As the report noted, a significant concentration of sentences 
below mandatory minimums pursuant to the application of the safety 
valve (rather than substantial assistance motions) are found in 
circuits and districts that adjoin the southwest border and in a few 
other places, such as Florida Southern, New Jersey, New York Eastern, 
and Washington State, where there are large ports of entry. Using what 
are referred to as "fast-track" or "early disposition" programs, some 
of these districts are able to handle increasing caseloads caused by 
various law enforcement initiatives. The programs differ somewhat in 
operation, but all are operated with the consent of the government, the 
court, and the defense counsel.

Such programs are vital to relieve court congestion and conserve 
resources. A chief judge in a district that sentenced more guideline 
defendants than any other district noted that the fast-track programs 
benefit the system in a number of ways. By encouraging an early 
disposition of cases, the program reduces the cost and need for grand 
jurors, petit jurors, interpreters, deputy United States marshals, 
prosecutors, Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys, federal defenders, 
immigration judge time, magistrate judge time, district court time, and 
appellate court time. Overall, the participants value the benefits of 
an early disposition program. A copy of Chief Judge Marilyn L. Huffs 
testimony presented at a recent United States Sentencing Commission 
hearing on the fast-track programs is enclosed.

However, there has been no uniformity in the manner in which these 
programs are administered. As such, departures granted for these 
programs pursuant to a plea agreement are not always identified in the 
Commission's data. For example, in the district of Arizona, which 
accounts for 1,809 of the slightly more than 10,000 downward departures 
granted in 2001, departures under a fast-track program are often 
granted pursuant to a plea agreement for "general mitigating 
circumstances" under §5K2.0 of the guidelines. Unless the Commission's 
data fully captures and reports these reasons for downward departures, 
these cases are inappropriately included in "other downward" 
departures.

Similar confusion arises in connection with the applicability of 
mandatory minimum sentences. In the report, there are only two choices 
provided for explaining why a sentence is below the mandatory minimum-
"substantial assistance" and "for other reasons." One chief judge 
expressed his concern about this portrayal as follows: "I frankly could 
not understand why the stats were so high `for other reasons' 
particularly since I always understood mandatory minimums to be exactly 
that, mandatory. Then I realized, of course, that the `safety valve' 
provisions allow us to go below the mandatory minimum to the guideline 
range. I assume that this is what the `for other reasons' largely 
represents in fact." Another chief judge noted "[s]entences under the 
`safety valve' are at the direct authorization (and presumably 
encouragement) of Congress. Furthermore, `safety valve' sentences 
are not `downward departures' but rather result in sentences within the 
applicable guideline range, albeit lower than the otherwise mandatory 
minimum.":

Another chief judge explained that there are other reasons why a case 
may fall below what appears to be an applicable mandatory minimum. "One 
critical factor in determining the appropriate sentencing guideline 
relates to the amount of drugs attributable to a specific defendant. 
While the amount of drugs ascribable to a courier (often called a mule) 
may be readily available, the amounts attributable to individual 
defendants within a conspiracy is more difficult to affix. At the time 
a conspiracy indictment is returned by the grand jury, the indictment 
reflects the amount of drugs known to the investigators at the time 
and, presumably, all co-conspirators are bound by that amount. At the 
time of sentencing, the government often acknowledges that while there 
was probable cause to establish the amount of drugs involved at the 
time of the incident, the government cannot prove that amount beyond a 
reasonable doubt.... In each instance, the judge must adjust the 
guidelines to the appropriate provable level. However, the presentence 
report often reflects the amount of drugs stated in the indictment 
which has been determined unprovable as to certain defendants. Too 
often, revision of the presentence report is deemed a departure rather 
than appropriate adjustment based on provable facts.":

Judges recognize their obligation to sentence defendants in accordance 
with the law and comply with the sentencing guidelines to meet that 
obligation. But, a clear understanding of sentencing decisions has been 
limited because of incomplete data. Accordingly, the Judicial 
Conference has taken significant steps to help the Sentencing 
Commission improve its data collection. As you know, the Conference 
revised the Statement of Reasons and designated it as the mechanism by 
which courts will comply with the requirements of the PROTECT Act to 
report reasons for sentences to the Sentencing Commission. Also, the 
Criminal Law Committee will work with the Commission and the Federal 
Judicial Center to develop educational programs and information for 
judges and other court staff to implement this Conference policy. 
However, it will also be important for the Commission to ensure that 
its procedures will correctly analyze and report data on the reasons 
for all sentencing decisions. We will continue our positive working 
relationship with the Commission and its staff and further revise the 
Statement of Reasons to help the Commission perfect its data collection 
and reporting efforts.

On behalf of the Criminal Law Committee, I appreciate the opportunity 
to comment on the draft report.

Very truly yours,

Sim Lake:

Signed by Sim Lake:

Enclosure:

NOTES: 

[1] As you know, a copy of the report was distributed to district 
judges to provide them an opportunity to comment on the facts and 
findings of the report, particularly with regard to specific court 
statistics as provided in the report's appendices.

[End of section]

Appendix VII: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

GAO Contacts:

William O. Jenkins, Jr. (202) 512-8757 David Alexander (202) 512-4223:

Staff Acknowledgments:

In addition to the persons named above, the following persons made key 
contributions to this report: William W. Crocker, III, Christine Davis, 
Barbara Hills, David Makoto Hudson, E. Anne Laffoon, William Sabol, 
Doug Sloane, Wendy Turenne.

FOOTNOTES

[1] 18 U.S.C. 3551 et seq., 28 U.S.C. 991-998.

[2] 28 U.S.C. 991(b)(1)(B); see also S. Rep. No. 98-225, p. 52 (1983).

[3] See 18 U.S.C. 3553(e).

[4] Other reasons that sentences departed downward included early 
disposition, that is, "fast track," programs initiated by prosecutors; 
plea agreements; and judges' consideration of mitigating circumstances. 
See appendix IV for more information on the frequency of reasons cited 
for other downward departures.

[5] 28 U.S.C. 994.

[6] See USSC 2002 Guidelines, 1B1.9 and ch. 1, pt. A, intro. comment. 
5.

[7] See 18 U.S.C. 3553(b); USSC 2002 Guidelines, ch. 5, pt. K, sec. 2.

[8] See USSC 2002 Guidelines., 5K2.0 and ch. 5, pt. H, intro. comment.

[9] See P.L. 108-21 (April 30, 2003), sec. 401(c), amending 18 U.S.C. 
3553(c).

[10] See id., sec. 401(h), amending 28 U.S.C. 994(w).

[11] See id., sec. 401(m)(1), (2)(A).

[12] See 21 U.S.C. 841, 844, 846, 960, 963.

[13] See 18 U.S.C. 3553(e).

[14] See id. 3553(f).

[15] See USSC 2002 Guidelines, sec. 5K1.1.

[16] See id., secs. 2D1.1(b)(6); 2D2.1(b)(1).

[17] Since circuits and districts may vary widely in the number of 
offenders and type of offenses for which they are convicted, analyses 
that identify the percent of cases that fell below an applicable 
guideline range or a mandatory minimum do not provide a fair basis for 
comparing sentencing practices across circuits and districts. For 
example, a greater proportion of offenders appearing before a district 
court who possessed and shared information of a crime that assisted the 
government in the investigation or prosecution of others or whose 
offenses were less serious may influence the frequency of sentences 
that fell below an applicable guideline range. Taking various offender 
and offense characteristics into account to identify the likelihood of 
a sentence falling below a guideline range or a mandatory minimum 
provides a more accurate picture of variation in sentencing across 
circuits and districts. We provide this statistical analysis later in 
the report. See appendix I for more information on the limitations of 
percentages as a basis for comparison.

[18] If a sentence fell below a mandatory minimum sentence and involved 
a substantial assistance motion, we described the sentence as a 
"substantial assistance sentence falling below." If a sentence 
otherwise fell below, we described that sentence as falling below 
because of "other reasons." The data indicated that most, but not all, 
of sentences falling below for other reasons involved the safety valve 
provision, which is the only mechanism by which a judge may disregard a 
mandatory minimum in the absence of a substantial assistance motion. 
Reasons for 681 drug sentences falling below a mandatory minimum were 
not clearly indicated on the sentencing documents, according to USSC 
officials. Our analysis included these sentences as falling below a 
mandatory minimum for other reasons.

[19] The average percentage sentence reduction was calculated by taking 
the percentage reductions for all sentences and averaging them. This 
average does not necessarily equal the ratio of the average reduced 
sentence (as a result of a departure) to the average expected sentence 
(the guidelines minimum or mandatory minimum sentence length).

[20] As noted in table 10, USSC data contained no "other downward 
departure" sentences in drug cases in the Northern Mariana Islands 
District for fiscal years 1999 through 2001.

[21] 28 U.S.C. 994(w), 995(a)(8). Courts are also to forward additional 
documentation related to actions taken after sentencing, such as 
revocations of probation or resentencing under Federal Rule of Criminal 
Procedure 35(b). 

[22] P.L. 108-21, sec. 401(h), amending 28 U.S.C. 994(w).

[23] "Fast-track" or other early disposition programs in the southwest 
border districts provide lower sentences initiated by prosecutors for 
low-level drug trafficking offenses. 

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To Report Fraud, Waste, and Abuse in Federal Programs:

Contact:

Web site: www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov

Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470:

Public Affairs:

Jeff Nelligan, managing director, NelliganJ@gao.gov (202) 512-4800 U.S.

General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149 Washington, D.C.

20548: