Thursday, April 11, 2013

Federal mandatory minimum sentence bill introduced

The National Law Journal/ last month had an article about Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) having introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act which seeks to allow judges sentence offenders below the statutory requirements "if the court finds it necessary to do so" -- an option currently available in some drug cases, this law would extend that discretion to all federal crimes.

Reference was made to a 3-month survey of federal district court judges done by the U.S. Sentencing Commission back in June 2010, which found that, while 38% of the judges responding to the survey thought "mandatory minimum sentence generally appropriate," roughly the same number (40%) "strongly agreed" that "the statutory safety valve should be expanded to include… all offenses with a mandatory minimum; only 8% "strongly disagreeibg".. Fully, 24% of the respondent judges in that survey felt "Congress should amend 28 USC § 994(b)(2) to allow broader ranges on the sentencing table," while 34% "strongly agreed that the sentencing guidelines should be 'de-linked' from statutory mandatory minimum sentences (i.e., the guideline ranges should be set by the Commission independently from mandatory minimum sentences)." [Survey of United States District Judges]

Leahy & Paul’s bill, now in the Senate's Judiciary Committee, seeks:
Section 3553 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`(g) Authority To Impose a Sentence Below a Statutory Minimum To Prevent an Unjust Sentence-

(1) GENERAL RULE- Notwithstanding any provision of law other than this subsection, the court may impose a sentence below a statutory minimum if the court finds that it is necessary to do so in order to avoid violating the requirements of subsection (a).
(2) COURT TO GIVE PARTIES NOTICE- Before imposing a sentence under paragraph  
(1), the court shall give the parties reasonable notice of the court's intent to do so and anopportunity to respond.
(3) STATEMENT IN WRITING OF FACTORS- The court shall state, in the written statement of reasons, the factors under subsection (a) that require imposition of a sentence below the statutory minimum.
(4) APPEAL RIGHTS NOT LIMITED- This subsection does not limit any right to appeal that would otherwise exist in its absence.'.

18 U.S.C. § 3553(f),
often referred to as the "safety valve," provides that a court must impose a sentence without regard to statutory mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug trafficking offenses if certain criteria are met.
With Senators Leahy and Paul's bill in the Senate, amendments to the Sentencing Commission Guidelines just completed the public commentary phase of that process. Included there was a request for public comment "regarding whether, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) and 28 U.S.C. ' 994(u), any proposed amendment published in this notice should be included in subsection (c) of '1B1.10 (Reduction in Term of Imprisonment as a Result of Amended Guideline Range (Policy Statement)) as an amendment that may be applied retroactively to previously sentenced defendants."

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