Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Sentencing Reform Overhaul

Post Date: January 30, 2014

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed the first major reconsideration of federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws since the Nixon Administration. The Committee voted, 13-5, in support of S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The Smarter Sentencing Act: 

  • Reduces mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenders by half
  • Narrowly increases the scope of an existing “safety valve” exception to federal drug offenses
  • Allows 8,800 federal prisoners imprisoned for crack cocaine crimes to return to court to seek fairer punishments in line with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a unanimously-passed measure to reduce the racially discriminatory disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses
  • Requires the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to compile, and make publicly available on their websites, lists of all federal laws and regulations carrying criminal penalties. This part of the bill addresses growing bipartisan concerns about the issue of “over-criminalization” – that there are too many federal crimes and that people can and do unknowingly and unintentionally break laws and regulations and serve jail or prison time for violations that could be better addressed with fines.
  • Adds new mandatory minimum sentences for sexual abuse, domestic violence, and terrorism offenses 

FAMM President Julie Stewart issued this statement in response to the Smarter Sentencing Act’s passage by the Senate Judiciary Committee: 

“We strongly support the underlying bill; however, we have deep concerns about changes made during markup. These changes include new mandatory minimums for domestic violence and sexual abuse that are unjustified and opposed by the very victims they are supposed to protect

“Although FAMM would prefer the total repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, this bill is a necessary compromise that will help address many of the drivers of our exploding prison populations. The reform package is bipartisan, reasonable, and will save taxpayers billions of dollars by locking up fewer nonviolent drug offenders for shorter periods of time. It also focuses on over-criminalization, a monster that no one has been able to get a handle on, but one that must be brought under control.”

Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it has been gaining cosponsors from both parties in recent weeks. Last year, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) established a six-month, bipartisan Over-Criminalization Task Force to address the scope and size of the federal criminal code and regulations. The Task Force expired in November 2013, but FAMM and other advocates have supported a reauthorization for another six-month term and asked the Chairman to hold a hearing on sentencing laws. 

Today, Stewart urged Chairman Goodlatte and the House Judiciary Committee to consider the Smarter Sentencing Act. “Seven of the 10 members of the Over-Criminalization Task Force currently support mandatory minimum sentencing reform, and all of the Task Force members have shown interest in getting a handle on our enormous criminal code,” said Stewart. “The interest is there, and the time is right – this is something that Congress could actually do this year.” 

FAMM is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization supporting fair, humane, and proportionate sentencing laws that protect the public and fit the crime and the offender.