Senate Committee Approves Eliminating and Reducing Certain Criminal Sentences

On January 30, 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would abolish mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders who do not have a prior criminal history, as well as reducing by 50% mandatory minimum sentences for specified nonviolent drug offenses. The proposed law among other things eliminates mandatory minimum sentences if there is a finding by the Judge that the defendant does not have any previous conviction for crimes involving a firearm, violence, terrorism, a sex offense, racketeering or conspiracy involving illegal drugs. It would also reduce mandatory minimum sentences from 20 to 10 years, from 10 to five years, and from five to two years. There would be no change lowering the maximum sentence.

Opponents believe this law could result in prosecutors being unable to curtail gangs and drug organizations (drug cartels, etc.). Moreover, it is argued that there are very few criminals in federal prison for only simple drug possession, and the rest are mainly drug dealers that are the subject of the bill.

Proponents site the overcrowding and excessive costs of our Federal prisons, the latter estimate being as much as $3 billion over 10 years. They also claim the current laws do not sufficiently distinguish career criminals from low level offenders, and further that nonviolent drug offenses only would be the subject of the new law if it is passed by the full Senate, and goes through the rest of the process in which new laws are made.

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