Sentencing Reform – Federal Initiatives

Cocaine Sentencing

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) was enacted August 3, 2010, finally reducing the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The act reduced the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1 and eliminated the mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years for simple possession of crack cocaine. The Sentencing Guidelines have been reduced accordingly and the reduced sentences apply retroactively. Congress failed to explicitly make the statutory mandatory minimums retroactive, giving rise to some conflicting judicial interpretations.  We anticipate the reintroduction of two House bills that address the FSA’s shortcomings:

  • The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act would equalize penalties for cocaine offenses.
  • The Fair Sentencing Clarification Act would make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.

Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum sentences require judges to impose inappropriately harsh sentences that waste tax dollars and overcrowd prisons with low-level, nonviolent offenders.

  • Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Rand Paul have introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 this Congress. If enacted, this legislation would restore essential judicial discretion to permit a sentence below harsh and inflexible statutory minimums based upon the court’s assessment of the particular facts and circumstances of the case and the offender. Its purpose would be to prevent the kind of unjust and irrational criminal punishments the nation has witnessed under the ever-expanding mandatory minimum sentencing regime of the last few decades.
  • The Smarter Sentencing Act was introduced this Congress by Senator Durbin and Senator Lee. If enacted it would make the Fair Sentencing Act fully retroactive and lower certain drug mandatory minimums. It would also expand the already existing federal "safety valve" by broadening the criteria for eligibility.
  • In the House, we anticipate the reintroduction of The Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act, which would repeal the mandatory minimum sentences applicable to federal drug offenses.

Good Time Credit

Recent federal reports have highlighted the ballooning federal prison population and the resulting overcrowding and budgetary crisis.  See, e.g., Bureau of Prisons:  Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure, GAO-12-743.  A bipartisan group of senators is currently preparing legislation that would expand good time credit opportunities and other benefits based on the completion of rehabilitative programs.

Fraud and other white collar offenses 

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