A Step Toward Justice: The New Federal Sentencing Amendment and Its Impact on Acquitted Conduct

Although the criminal defense team at The Kronzek Firm practices primarily in state courts in Michigan, they occasionally represent clients in federal criminal cases. All the attorneys on our defense team applaud a new federal sentencing practice.

On April 17, 2024, the U.S. Sentencing Commission took an important step toward reforming federal sentencing guidelines. In a unanimous decision, the panel voted to curtail judges’ ability to impose longer sentences based on conduct for which defendants were acquitted at trial. This move comes after growing calls from members of Congress and criminal defense lawyers to address the controversial practice of sentencing defendants for “acquitted conduct.”


The practice of considering acquitted conduct during sentencing has always been controversial in the legal community. Critics argue that it undermines the constitutional principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and can lead to unjust outcomes. Federal judges have historically had the discretion to factor acquitted conduct into a defendant’s sentence, even if the jury explicitly found them not guilty of those specific charges.

Supreme Court’s Sidestep

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court avoided directly ruling on the constitutionality of this practice. Instead, several justices indicated that they would defer to the Sentencing Commission’s decision on whether to address the issue. With the Commission’s recent vote, the debate has gained renewed attention.

The Amendment

Effective November 1, 2024, an amendment to the advisory federal sentencing guidelines will prohibit judges from considering conduct for which a defendant was acquitted in federal court as relevant conduct for sentencing purposes. (Advisory guidelines mean the federal judge will consider but not be bound by the sentencing guidelines.) This bipartisan decision aims to restore fairness and consistency in sentencing, ensuring defendants are not penalized for charges on which they were ultimately found not guilty.

Implications and Controversy

While many applaud this reform, there are still dissenting voices. Some argue that judges should retain discretion to consider acquitted conduct in exceptional cases, such as when evidence strongly suggests guilt despite a jury’s verdict. Balancing the need for justice with the protection of defendants’ rights remains a delicate task.


The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s vote represents a significant shift in federal sentencing policy. By limiting judges’ discretion on acquitted conduct, the Commission wants to uphold the principles of justice and fairness. As the amendment takes effect later this year, criminal defense attorneys and defendants alike will closely monitor its impact on sentencing outcomes nationwide, including in the federal courts in Michigan.

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