The Big Story - FAMM President Julie Stewart
Welcome to the new and improved FAMMGram! Rather than sending you lengthy progress reports three times a year, we decided we’d start sending you the “latest and greatest” every month. We hope you like this new schedule and format. On to the Big Story of the month…
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is my new hero. He is singlehandedly preventing Congress from passing new bills to ban synthetic drug use. Sen. Paul does not want anyone to be harmed by dangerous drugs, of course, but he objects to these bills, in part, because they would extend the most punitive drug-related mandatory minimum to even more individuals. Unfortunately, he is getting some grief from constituents in Kentucky and colleagues in the Senate. But Sen. Paul is holding firm.
According to one newspaper report, Sen. Paul “reiterated his main reason for holding up the synthetic drug legislation is penalties for drug law violations are ‘disproportionate’ to the crime and federal sentencing requirements don’t allow room for judicial discretion in sentencing. ‘The main reason we are opposing this is someone could be kept in prison for 20 years,’ Paul said.”
FAMM’s Director of Member Services, Andrea Strong, is a Kentucky resident. She shared her family’s painful experience with mandatory minimums in order to show support for Paul’s efforts. Because Sen. Paul is standing up for what’s right, FAMM is glad to stand with him.
Crack Pipeline Cases Go to Supreme Court
- On April 17, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases (Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States) that will decide what to do with so-called "pipeline" defendants: federal crack offenders who committed their crimes before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, but were sentenced for those crimes after the Act had gone into effect. What law should they be sentenced under: old 100-to-1 crack disparity law, or the Act's new 18-to-1 ratio?
- FAMM joined the ACLU in filing an amicus brief in the cases and posted this summary of the dispute. The Court will issue its decisions on the cases by June 2012.
FAMM Testifies at “Booker Fix” Hearing at U.S. Sentencing Commission
- The U.S. Sentencing Commission held a hearing on February 16 to discuss ways to prevent unwarranted disparity in federal sentencing. Some on the panel urged Congress to reverse the Booker decision and re-impose mandatory guidelines. Others suggested more modest, but nearly as harmful steps. FAMM Vice President and General Counsel Mary Price told the Commission that these solutions were looking for a problem - and that judicial discretion is working.
- Notably, the U.S. Department of Justice testified at the hearing and did not ask for a return to mandatory guidelines. That means no one involved in the day-to-day business of federal sentencing - judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys - is in favor of mandatory guidelines. That’s good news.
Georgia Gets into Sentencing Reform Act
- Although they did not go as far as we would have hoped, Georgia lawmakers passed a prison reform bill that will lessen sentences for small-time state drug offenders and provide more options for drug treatment. FAMM had been advocating for a “safety valve” in Georgia and was pleased that a special state task force endorsed it. But even a compelling op-ed by former federal prosecutor and congressman Bob Barr couldn’t persuade Peach State lawmakers to adopt this common sense reform this year. We’ll keep asking states like Georgia to include safety valves in their reform efforts in the future.
U.S. Sentencing Commission Considers Child Pornography and Fraud Sentences
- On February 15, the Sentencing Commission invited a diverse group of witnesses to testify about the skyrocketing growth in child pornography sentences. FAMM did not testify at the hearing but shared its concerns about lengthy child pornography sentences in comments filed with the Commission in August 2011.
- A month later, the Commission held a hearing on the economic fraud guideline. FAMM has urged the Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the fraud guideline. Just as we believe the weight of drugs plays too large a role in determining sentence length under the guidelines, we believe that the amount of loss plays an outsized role in setting fraud sentences.
- On March 23, Roll Call published an op-ed by Julie Stewart that reminds members of Congress that courts play an important role in checking the awesome power of federal prosecutors.
- FAMM Massachusetts Project Director Barb Dougan wrote an article for a special edition of Blackstonian, which focuses on the “Three Strikes” bills . In her piece, Barb explains that FAMM opposes amendments to the state’s habitual offender law while continuing our work for significant mandatory minimum reform this session.
- FAMM Director of Special Projects Molly Gill wrote a provocatively titled op-ed, “How Would Jesus Punish Drug Use?” that was published by The Huffington Post on March 26.
- If once a month does not satisfy for your thirst for sentencing news, you can also follow us on Facebook or by reading our blog, SentenceSpeak. Also, if you have friends who would be interested in receiving the FAMMGram, please forward this email to them and ask them to sign up for FAMM ealerts.
2012 is an election year, which means we’ll be playing a lot more defense than offense. Why? According to a comprehensive FAMM analysis, Congress is much more likely to create or expand mandatory minimum sentences in an election year than in a non-election year. Since 1987, there has been only one election year (2010) in which Congress did not create or increase any mandatory minimum sentences. Check out our full analysis and other important facts about sentencing at our website.