H.R. 2944, SAFE Justice Act

TAKE ACTION: Click here to tell your U.S. Representative to support the SAFE Justice Act today! 

Bill summary:
Click here for FAMM summary of sentencing reforms
Click here for summary of full bill provisions

Bill text: 
To read the full text of the bill, click here.

Bill progress:
To track the progress of the bill, click here.

Summary: The Act (H.R. 2944) is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill does not repeal any federal mandatory minimum sentences or reduce drug mandatory minimum sentences across the board, but instead limits the application of federal mandatory minimum drug sentences to the highest-level offenders, as Congress originally intended. The bill will reduce prison costs and populations, save money, reinvest savings into law enforcement needs (e.g., training, body cameras, blue alerts), and protect the public by using state-tested, evidence-based practices that are reducing crime. 

THE BILL IS NOT A LAW. FAMM does not know if or when it may become a law. Every year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very few become law. To become a law, this bill must be approved by the House Judiciary Committee, passed by the full U.S. House of Representatives, passed by the full U.S. Senate, and signed by the President. Keep checking here for updates on the bill’s progress.

If it becomes law, the SAFE Justice Act would make the following sentencing, good time credit, and earned time credit reforms:

1.  Limit application of federal mandatory minimum drug sentences to people who meet the drug quantities listed in 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 960 and were organizers, leaders, managers, or supervisors of a criminal activity that involved at least 5 people. Everyone else would not be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence, but could still be sentenced up to the law’s statutory maximum terms, depending on the drug quantity, number of participants, and role in the case. People who are already in prison would be permitted to seek retroactive application of these changes to their current sentences by filing a motion to the courts under 18 U.S.C. section 3582.
2. Expand the existing “safety valve”:  The bill would enlarge the safety valve so that courts could sentence a person below the mandatory minimum term for drug offenses and gun offenses that occurred during drug offenses (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)), as long as the person meets all of these criteria:
–  is in criminal history category I (0 to 1 criminal history points under the sentencing guidelines) after any downward departure 
– did not use violence or threats 
– the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury
– the person was not convicted of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848), and
– the person pled guilty.
This part of the bill would NOT be retroactive (i.e., apply to people already sentenced), if the bill becomes law.
3. Create a new “safety valve” for drug and gun mandatory minimums: 
The bill would create a new safety valve so that courts could sentence a person below the mandatory minimum term for drug offenses and gun offenses that occurred during drug offenses (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)), as long as the person meets all of these criteria:
– The person committed the crime as a result of mental illness, cognitive defects, or a history of persistent or serious substance abuse or addiction; OR financial, emotional, or mental distress; OR trauma suffered while serving on active duty in an armed conflict zone for a branch of the United States military; OR victimization stemming from any combination of physical mental, emotional, or psychological abuse or domestic violence, if the offense was committed at the direction of another individual who was a more culpable participant in the instant offense or played a significantly greater role in the offense or effectively coerced the defendant’s involvement in the offense by means of threats or abuse either personally or from any person or group
– the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence in connection with the offense
– the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person
– the person was not convicted of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848) and
– the person pled guilty.
This part of the bill would NOT be retroactive, if the bill becomes law.
4. Create a new “safety valve” for drug mandatory minimums: The bill would create a new safety valve so that courts could sentence a person below the mandatory minimum term for drug offenses, as long as the person meets all of these criteria:
– the person falls within criminal history category II (2 or 3 criminal history points under the sentencing guidelines) after any downward departure
– the person does not have any prior convictions for an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another
– the current offense is not a sex, terrorism, or racketeering offense, or gun offense under 18 U.S.C. sections 922 or 924(c)
– the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence in connection with the offense
– the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person
– the person was not convicted of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848) and
– the person pled guilty.
This part of the bill would NOT be retroactive, if the bill becomes law.
5. Fix the technical error that leads to section 924(c) “stacking”: 
The bill would fix 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) so that the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for second or subsequent gun possession/use offenses only applies when the prior 924(c) violation is a final conviction. In other words, multiple counts of 924(c) charges in the same indictment would no longer lead to stacked sentences like the 55-year one being served by Weldon Angelos.
6. Make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive:
Federal prisoners serving crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed before August 3, 2010, would be allowed to petition the court for a sentence reduction in line with the new, 18-to-1 crack-powder ratio Congress unanimously passed in 2010.
7. Life mandatory minimum terms for drugs:
 Reduce the mandatory minimum life sentences for a third felony drug offense or a second drug offense that results in death or serious bodily injury under 21 U.S.C. section 841 to a mandatory minimum term of 35 years. These changes would be retroactive, if the bill becomes law.
8. Redefine the kinds of prior convictions that can be used to increase mandatory minimum drug sentences to 10, 20 years, or higher and that can be used to trigger the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession under the Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. section 924(e)). The bill also strengthens the procedural and notice requirements when prosecutors want to increase sentences based on prior convictions. 
9. Allow prisoners to earn up to 33% earned time credit for rehabilitation: With few exceptions, federal prisoners could earn up to 10 days of time credits for every 30 days of rehabilitative programming they complete in prison. These credits would be real sentence reductions, not time spent in another form of confinement such as a halfway house or home detention. This change would be retroactive. Federal prisoners would NOT be eligible to earn time credits if they were convicted of federal homicide with intent to cause death and death resulted, or terrorism or sex offenses. These prisoners may instead receive other incentives for completing programming, such as additional commissary, telephone, or visitation privileges. 
10. Fix the technical error in good time credit calculation: Prisoners could earn up to 54 days of credit for good behavior per year in prison, rather than 47 days, as is current practice. This change would be retroactive.
11. Expand compassionate release and elderly prisoner release: The bill would permit prisoners and the courts, as well as the federal Bureau of Prisons, to request a compassionate release for extraordinary and compelling reasons, or for prisoners who are at least 60 years old, have an extraordinary health condition, or have been notified that the primary caregiver of the prisoner’s minor child has died or become incapacitated or is unable to care for the child any longer or cannot be cared for by other family members and is at risk of being placed in foster care.

Factsheets and Press Releases:

Press Release from Reps. Sensenbrenner and Scott

SAFE Justice Act Summary

Resources:

Current Law to be Changed:

Current Drug Safety Valve: 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)

Current mandatory minimum drug sentences: 21 U.S.C. § 841

Current mandatory minimum gun sentences: Possession or use of a gun, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

Current Armed Career Criminal Act: 18 U.S.C. § 924(e) 

Current Federal Good Time Credit Statute: 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)

Crack Cocaine/Fair Sentencing Act:

FAQ: The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Factsheet: A brief history of crack cocaine sentencing laws

Recidivism Study: What Happened to Those Who Received Crack Sentence Reductions Based on the 2007 Retroactive Crack Guideline Changes

Life Sentences:

Life Sentences in the Federal System (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2015)

Good Time Credit:

FAQ: Federal good time credit