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What is the Safety Valve Provision and How Can it Lessen Federal Sentencing?

By Joel Hancock

When someone is convicted of a specific crime or accepts a plea bargain, they automatically receive at least a pre-established minimum sentence for that crime. It may come as a surprise that it’s actually Congress – not a judge – that sets those minimums. The judge can choose to increase the sentence from the minimum required, but cannot lessen the sentence – except for the Safety Valve Provision if it’s applicable. 

What Is the Safety Valve Provision?

In 1984 Congress passed the Safety Valve Provision as part of the Sentencing Reform Act. The purpose of the Safety Valve Provision was to ensure that individuals convicted of non-violent, low-level offenses who didn’t have a criminal history did not receive unreasonably disproportionate sentences. It generally applies to drug crimes with a mandatory minimum.

Each federal crime carries its own offense level, which falls between one and 43; the higher the number, the more serious the crime or aggravating factors. The Safety Valve Provision provides a two-point reduction in the offense level. Alternatively, if a suspect is found to obstruct justice during the investigation, the offense level is then increased by two points. If that same person is shown to be remorseful for their wrongdoing, their offense level may be decreased by two points. While two points may not seem like much, those two points can help to drastically reduce the length of one’s sentence. 

Who is Eligible for the Safety Valve Provision?

The Safety Valve Provision does not apply to everyone; the individual must be eligible for it. To be eligible, the individual must meet the following requirements:

  • Limited Criminal History

If the offender has a criminal history, the sentencing guidelines will assign specific appoints to those prior convictions. They must not have more than four points for their criminal history (not including any one-point offenses).

  • No Violence, Credible Threat, or Dangerous Weapon

The crime that the individual committed must have been a non-violent crime and they must not have made any credible threats of violence. Additionally, they must not have possessed a firearm or dangerous weapon at the time that the crime was committed. The Court will also examine whether the offender convinced anyone else to commit violence or possess a firearm during the crime.

  •  No Death or Serious Injury

The offense committed must not have resulted in any deaths or serious bodily injuries. 

  • Not the Leader or Organizer 

The offender must not have led, organized, or managed a group committing the crime. 

  • Cooperation with Investigators

The offender must have cooperated with investigators and provided them with comprehensive information and evidence pertinent to their conduct in the case. 

Which Criminal Cases Eligible for the Safety Valve Provision?

Not every crime is eligible for the Safety Valve Provision either. In fact, only those crimes that the statute lists are eligible. These charges include:

  • Distribution, manufacturing, or dispensing of a controlled or counterfeit substance;


  • Simple possession of a controlled substance; 


  • Attempt and conspiracy to distribute, manufacture, or dispense a controlled or counterfeit substance; and 


  • Importing or exporting a controlled substance or bringing it on board a vessel, aircraft, or vehicle. 

Attorney Joel Hancock at Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Help Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you have been charged with a crime, you may have options. You have the right to defend yourself and prove your innocence. Your best bet of doing so successfully is with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney who understands what you are up against and will fight on your behalf. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you to fight this order. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.