Sentencing Reform Provisions Under the First Step Act (Title IV)

The First Step Act makes important changes to several federal drug and gun statutes. The Act reduces mandatory minimum enhancements for some drug defendants and also changes the definition of these enhancements.  It also modifies the existing federal safety valve, broadening its application to more drug defendants; changes the “stacking” penalty under 18 U.S.C. §924(c); and retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Mandatory Minimum Penalties:

  • The First Step Act reduces mandatory minimum penalties for federal drug offenses under 21 U.S.C. §§841(b)(1)(A), (b)(1)(b) and 21 U.S.C. §§960(b)(1) and (b)(2). (Sec. 401)
  • The Act also changes the definitions for prior convictions under 21 U.S.C. §851 that enhance statutory drug penalties. (Section 401) 

Safety Valve

  • The First Step Act expands the federal drug safety valve at 18 U.S.C. §3553(f), increasing eligibility for relief below mandatory minimum penalties. (Section 402)

“Stacking” Under 18 U.S.C. §924(c)

  • The First Step Act modifies severe “stacking” penalties under 18 U.S.C. §924(c) to eliminate 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent §924(c) offenses in the same indictment.  The 25-year mandatory minimum sentence can still apply if a defendant is convicted of a §924(c) offense after a prior §924(c) conviction has become final. (Sec. 403)

Retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

  • The First Step Act retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which increased the quantities of crack cocaine that triggered mandatory minimums in federal drug trafficking cases. (Section 404).

Additional Resources



Coronavirus Resources

NACDL to Focus on Service and Support for Members, Clients, and Community Throughout Virus Emergency

Learn More