At a packed public hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, a former federal prosecutor and the director of a conservative criminal justice reform group called on U.S. Senators to roll back federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These witnesses told committee members that one-size-fits-all penalties do more harm than good, a message confirmed by the dozens of FAMM members who traveled from across the country to attend the hearing.[…]
Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the co-author with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, said, “The number of mandatory minimum penalties in the federal code nearly doubled from 1991 to 2011. Many of those mandatory minimums originated right here in this Committee room. When I look at the evidence we have now, I realize we were wrong. Our reliance on a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing has been a great mistake. Mandatory minimums are costly, unfair, and do not make our country safer.”
Sen. Paul told committee members, “Each case should be judged on its own merits. Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening. Mandatory minimum sentencing has done little to address the very real problem of drug abuse while also doing great damage by destroying so many lives.”
From the AP via the Washington Post:
[Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul] recounted from memory to a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee several cases he said he’d learned about where mandatory minimums had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
He said one man, Edward Clay, was arrested with less than 2 ounces of cocaine. Even as a first-time offender, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison because of mandatory sentencing guidelines, Paul said.[…]
Paul said when he described the effects of mandatory minimum sentences, “you might think I was talking about Jim Crow laws. The war on drugs is disproportionately affecting black males.”
He was referring to post-Civil War laws that effectively preserved racial segregation and unfair treatment for minorities.
And from the Blog of Legal Times:
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s policy announcement last month—directing prosecutors not to pursue mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug cases—is “an encouraging step,” but won’t reach many cases, Leahy said today. The Safety Valve Act would allow federal judges to give federal judges the ability to impose prison sentences shorter than the mandatory minimums they’re required to impose.
“The Department of Justice cannot solve this problem on its own,” Leahy said. “Congress must act.”
Leahy also is co-sponsoring a companion bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which also has bipartisan support and was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
“We cannot afford to stay on our current path,” Leahy said Wednesday. “Reducing mandatory minimum sentences, which have proven unnecessary to public safety, is an important reform that our federal system desperately needs. This is not a political solution – it is a practical one, and it is long overdue.”
The U.S. Judicial Conference released a letter Wednesday afternoon from U.S. District Court Judge Robert Holmes Bell, chair of the conference, lending “strong support” to the effort to reform mandatory minimums. The conference has “consistently and vigorously opposed” mandatory minimums for 60 years, the letter states.