Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Smarter Sentencing Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday gave its imprimatur to the Smarter Sentencing Act, approving the bill and sending it on to a Senate floor vote. The bill is designed to reduce the federal prison population and decrease racial disparities and, if passed by Congress, would mark the biggest federal sentencing reform in decades.

The act, Senate Bill 1410, cuts mandatory minimum sentences for drug law violations, makes retroactive the crack cocaine sentencing reforms passed in 2010, and gives judges greater discretion to sentence below mandatory minimums when the facts of the case warrant it.

The act was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators from across the political spectrum, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

"The tide has turned against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families apart," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "From liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites, there is now consensus that our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too much expense to taxpayers."

The sentencing reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) also welcomed the bill's progress, but said that it was not happy with some changes included as the bill made its way through the 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," the group noted.

"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."

While the bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, companion legislation is languishing in the Republican-controlled House. House Bill 3382, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and 15 cosponsors, is currently before the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Advocates are calling on Goodlatte, who helped establish a House Over-Criminalization Task Force last year, to move on 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 FAMM's Julie Stewart. "The interest is there, and the time is right -- this is something that Congress could actually do this year."

The favorable Senate Judiciary Committee vote -- it passed 13-5 -- came even as federal prosecutors came out in opposition to it. In a Monday letter to Attorney General Holder, the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys opposed reforms to mandatory minimums.

"We do not join with those who regard our federal system of justice as 'broken' or in need of major reconstruction," the organization said. "Instead, we consider the current federal mandatory minimum sentence framework as well-constructed and well worth preserving."

That sparked a tough rebuke from the Drug Policy Alliance.

"It is disgraceful that prosecutors continue to defend a criminal justice system that is profoundly racially unjust and cruel," said Piper. "While support for major reform is growing in both political parties, many prosecutors are still living in the dark ages."

Washington, DC
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Who were the five that voted

Who were the five that voted against the reforms?

prosecution/inquisition

' many prosecutors are still living in the dark ages.'

back then, they went by the name 'inquisitor'. remarkable similarities exist between inquisitors of yore and today's cruel, irrational, punitive amerikkkan prosecutors. it's as if they all own stock in prison industries and/or feed on human misery.

here's a good source of info on the horrors of inquisitions. the devil's always in the details:

http://www.cathar.info/1209_inquisition.htm

and for relatively recent and very shocking examples of amerikkkan prosecutorial abuses (amerikkkan prosecutors have way too much power and lack of legal accountability when they abuse it), check out this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Mean-Justice-Prosecutors-Betrayal-Innocence/dp/0684831740/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391823360&sr=1-1&keywords=mean+justice

Some name it as "Bait &

Some name it as "Bait & Switch law" The new criminal justice reform becomes  predicated on lies. Good ethics by Obama. - Adam Gottbetter

The last 3 US Presidents have

The last 3 US Presidents have all confirmed smoking marijuana. The current President took it to an art form with the aptly named "Choom Gang. People at all levels enjoy the benefits of marijuana. For some reason TV only likes to show hippies.

I'll forever be a connoisseur

I'll forever be a connoisseur of the herb. I look forward to the day I can grow my own sativa and support the local growing community. Lets get this done and stop (at least decrease) drug cartel violence.

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