Julie on Justice: Moving from Nonsense to Offense

Post Date: August 1, 2013

Julie Stewart, FAMM President

Julie Stewart, FAMM President

It’s a fact: every day in this country another person is sent to prison for way too long because of mandatory minimum sentences. That’s why we need to pass the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, a bill that would let judges ignore the mandatory sentence when it is clearly absurd. Just ask Edward Young. 

Edward will spend the next 15 years in federal prison for possessing seven shotgun shells. That’s right, not a gun, but shotgun shells. The police found the shells when they searched Edward’s house for some stolen property. They found the property and the shotgun shells. Instead of the state prosecuting Edward for stolen property, the federal government decided to charge Edward with violating the Armed Career Criminal Act, which prohibits felons from possessing firearms or ammunition.

The law, which is clearly intended to target dangerous, firearm-carrying violent offenders, requires a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence if the defendant has committed at least three prior felonies. Edward’s three 20-year-old unarmed burglary convictions put him in that category. In a recent article, FAMM’s Mary Price asks the right question about Edward’s case, “Why was this a federal case at all?” The Bureau of Prisons complains about overcrowding, yet the Department of Justice keeps sending them cases like Edward Young’s, and judges can’t shorten the sentences. It makes no sense.

And that’s why Congress needs to pass the Justice Safety Valve Act. The bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the House by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY). If the Justice Safety Valve Act had been law when Edward Young was sentenced, the judge could have imposed a reasonable sentence instead of the mandatory 15 years in prison.

But the good news is that support for passage of the Justice Safety Valve Act is growing daily – and from some unexpected quarters. On July 17, a group of more than 50 former federal prosecutors and judges endorsed the bill in a letter to Congress. One of those former prosecutors wrote a must-read op-ed that was published in the Charleston Daily Mail. Another former prosecutor joined with a sitting federal judge to endorse the bill in Minnesota. Considering that the Justice Safety Valve Act shifts power away from prosecutors and back to judges where it belongs, it is amazing to see so many former prosecutors champion our reform.

Prominent national conservatives have also moved past the failed, one-size-fits-all policies of the past and embraced the Justice Safety Valve Act: syndicated columnist George Will, former NRA president David Keene, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, Justice Fellowship president Craig DeRoche, and the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Galen Carey have all taken a stand. And it’s exciting to see the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lehigh Valley Times, and Toledo Blade join the editorial board of The New York Times in endorsing the bill.

Our hard work is paying off. Earlier this week, Senator Leahy, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ordered a hearing on the Justice Safety Valve Act in September.

All of this movement is fantastic – and it was no coincidence. With your help, we have been moving this debate inch by inch, forcing our opponents to defend a cruel, broken and budget-busting status quo. And we’re not done. We will keep pushing until we achieve our ultimate victory – and, this month, you can help us keep the momentum going by taking action in your community!

My best,

Julie

Julie Stewart
President, FAMM

Follow me on Twitter, @JulieOnJustice