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 Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)  
 Christie’s record on criminal justice issues  

He’s going past the normal pardon process and just letting these folks out.”

Governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie on November 2, 2015, criticizing President Obama for the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s “drugs minus two” changes to the federal sentencing guidelines after 6,000 federal prisoners were released on November 1, 2015.



Busted! We gave Governor Christie’s statement FOUR BARS because it is FALSE. Although its members are appointed by the President, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent, nonpartisan agency of the judicial branch, and it has been responsible for setting and revising federal sentencing guidelines since 1987. Its 2014 decisions to reduce federal drug sentencing guidelines and apply those changes retroactively to make 46,000 prisoners eligible for sentence reductions had nothing to do with President Obama or the pardon power, and they did not “just [let] these folks out.”

In 1984, Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The legislation’s Sentencing Reform Act created the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which was tasked with writing and updating the federal sentencing guidelines that judges use to calculate sentences in federal cases. The President appoints members of the commission to six-year terms, but the Senate must confirm these appointments. The Commission must include at least three federal judges and no more than four individuals belonging to the same political party. The Commission creates, writes, and amends the guidelines, and decides whether to make amendments retroactive. This process involves no presidential input or direction and has nothing to do with the presidential pardon power.

Moreover, the Commission’s 2014 drug guidelines amendment did not simply “[let] these folks out.” In October 2015, as the media was reporting that 6,000 federal prisoners would be released at the beginning of the following month, FAMM posted an explainer breaking down the news:

“In April 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved a change to federal sentencing guidelines that reduced sentences for certain federal drug offenders sentenced on or after Nov. 1, 2014. In July 2014, the Commission voted to make this change, known as drugs minus two, retroactive.  Retroactivity allowed incarcerated drug prisoners serving federal prison sentences calculated under the old guidelines the right to petition the court and ask that they be resentenced under the new, lower sentencing guidelines.

“This rule change did not automatically reduce the sentences of eligible federal drug offenders. When prisoners petition for lower sentences based on the change, judges can deny these requests for a variety of reasons, including if they believe an individual’s release would pose a threat to public safety.”

In short, Governor Christie’s statement is false both for its portrayal of the President’s involvement in Commission decision-making and of the application of the Commission’s retroactive guideline change.

Christie’s Record on Criminal Justice Issues

  • 2012 – During his State of the State Address, Christie pushes mandatory treatment in lieu of prison for first-time offenders: “Everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable.”
  • 2014 – Christie describes drug sentencing reform as “pro-life after they get out of the womb” and a bipartisan cause: “They don’t ask you for your party registration card when the drug dealer is selling it to you.”
  • 2015 – As a presidential candidate, Christie’s campaign website highlighted the importance of drug courts, expanding reentry services, and bail reform targeting “non-violent, minor offenses.” Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Christie said harsh sentences won’t solve all our problems: “Justice isn’t something we can jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities.”
    • However, Christie criticized Obama for failing to enforce federal laws criminalizing marijuana in states moving toward legalization.
    • Moreover, Christie said he opposes making reductions in mandatory minimum laws retroactive, instead supporting President Obama’s power to commute unjust prison sentences. He also criticized Obama for the Sentencing Commission’s changes to the federal sentencing guidelines, saying that the President is “going past the normal pardon process and just letting these folks out.”
  • 2016 – “To reclaim more lives, four years ago I also stood in this chamber and called for us to fundamentally change the way we treat nonviolent criminals who are in the thralls of the disease of addiction. Through the reforms we delivered, like mandatory drug court, we have a smaller prison population today.” – 2016 State of the State Address


FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. FAMM does not endorse any candidate or party in any election, and it does not make any campaign contributions. The information here is not provided and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any particular candidate or party. 

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