January 31

Families Against Mandatory Minimums reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Smarter Sentencing Act

“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.”

See the news report here.

These reforms are not law yet, but this is an important first step.

January 14

U.S. Sentencing Commission Proposes Amendments to Drug Quantity Guidelines

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, in recent (preliminary) proposed amendments to the sentencing guidelines, proposes lowering, by two levels, the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types in guideline §2D1.1, which governs drug trafficking cases. “Commission analysis indicates that such a change in the guidelines would result in a reduction of approximately 11 months for those drug trafficking offenders who would benefit, resulting in a reduction in the federal prison population of approximately 6,550 inmates by the fifth year after the change.”

The press release is available here, and the proposed amendments to the sentencing guidelines, policy statements, and commentary, in a “reader-friendly” form, are now available here.

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