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What is a Federal Safety Valve?

When handing down a sentence to a defendant, judges are often able to use what is called “judicial discretion.” This means that if there is no fixed rule for what sentence should be assigned to a specific charge, then the Court is allowed to use its own judgement in deciding the seriousness of the punishment. However, some charges have “mandatory minimums” attached to them; in these cases, the judges are legally bound to hand down sentences that are at least as severe as these guidelines order.

That said, good lawyers will always be on the lookout for ways to help their clients, and in certain cases a talented attorney may be able to dodge sentencing guidelines. One method of avoiding mandatory minimums in some federal criminal cases is a legal provision known as a “safety valve.”

Safety valves can only be applied to cooperative and non-violent defendants who have pled guilty to specific charges; it was designed to ensure that people who participated at a low level in a drug trafficking organization (DTO) are not punished disproportionately compared to their actions. The particulars of when a safety valve may be applicable are laid out in 18 U.S.C. 3553(f).

Recently, Criminal Defense Attorney Thomas D. Kenny was able to secure a safety valve for a client who was facing up to 40 years in prison for his involvement in a DTO. This client’s case was on shaky ground, as he had held a fairly powerful position within the DTO and had just been recaptured after fleeing the country several years ago. However, Mr. Kenny’s decades of legal experience meant he knew exactly which motions to file, as well as how to present the case so the Court would grant those motions.

Attorney Kenny was successful in convincing the Court to grant his client’s motion for a safety valve, and the client’s sentence was slashed to just over 5 years—a massive difference from the potential 40 years in prison he had been facing. With credit for time served, this client will be free in about three years.

If you or a loved one have been arrested, the best thing you can do is to call an experienced criminal defense attorney who will know all of the possible options available to you. Call the talented team at Kenny, Burns & McGill today: (215) 423-5500

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