WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAMM government affairs counsel Molly M. Gill today said that a new sentencing reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate demonstrates growing bipartisan support for fixing federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The bill, S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, is sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Chairman Leahy also announced on July 29 that the full Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing in September on mandatory minimum sentences and another sentencing reform bill, S. 619, the Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced earlier this year by Chairman Leahy and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
“More and more members of Congress recognize that one-size-fits-all sentencing laws are unsustainable and defy common sense,” said Gill. “We can’t keep wasting the Justice Department’s limited resources on locking up nonviolent offenders instead of fighting violent crime.”
If enacted, S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act would: provide for retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced excessive penalties for federal crack cocaine offenses; reduce the five-, 10-, and 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for many federal drug crimes to two-, five-, and 10-year terms, respectively; and expand the existing “safety valve” exception for drug offenses to apply to people who fall into Criminal History Categories I or II under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (rather than just Criminal History Category I, as is currently the case).
Ms. Gill noted that FAMM has long supported retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act. “The Fair Sentencing Act should have been retroactive from day one. The old crack cocaine sentences based on the now-discredited 100-to-1 disparity were always unjust. If this bill passes, thousands of prisoners and families will finally get the fair treatment they were denied,” she said.
Ms. Gill pointed to other signs that federal mandatory minimum reform is gaining momentum. On July 17, a group of more than 50 former federal prosecutors and judges released a letter endorsing the Justice Safety Valve Act, bipartisan legislation to give federal courts more discretion to depart from any mandatory minimum sentence. Senator Paul and Chairman Leahy introduced the Justice Safety Valve in the U.S. Senate (S. 619), and Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced an identical version (H.R. 1695) in the U.S. House. In addition to the former law enforcement officials, the Justice Safety Valve has been endorsed by conservative columnist George Will, former National Rifle Association president David Keene, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Justice Fellowship, the advocacy arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries. On June 23, The New York Times endorsed the federal safety valve. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Toledo Blade, and Lehigh Valley Times also have endorsed the bill.
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