Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Applauds Bipartisan Reform Legislation on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Washington, DC (March 20, 2013) – Today, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. 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. The expanded safety valve would apply to all federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences for any crime. 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.
NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said: “This measure will restore rational punishment to federal sentencing. It is long overdue. The United States leads the world in imprisonment largely because mandatory minimum sentencing requires judges to impose unjust sentences. While federal prisoners only account for about 10% of the staggering 2.2 million people incarcerated in this country, this measure would go a long way toward restoring the proper sentencing role of the judiciary to America’s criminal justice system. I am pleased that the efforts of NACDL and numerous allied organizations helped pave the way for the introduction of this legislation.”
If adopted, judges will be empowered to depart from federal mandatory minimum sentences where those sentences do not comport with the goals of punishment, as set forth in the law – including public safety, rehabilitation, deterrence, and fairness. Of the currently more than 170 federal mandatory minimum sentences, a narrow safety valve exists only for drug offenses. With some 26% of the Department of Justice 2013 budget request (according to the DOJ’s Inspector General) being consumed by the escalating federal prison budget, which includes an estimated annual cost of about $28,000 for each prisoner housed in the BOP’s overcrowded facilities, this legislation makes good fiscal sense as well.
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