In January 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged Congress to pass the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin and Mike Lee. This bill does not repeal any federal mandatory minimum sentences, however it reduces prison costs and populations by creating fairer, less costly minimum terms for nonviolent drug offenders.
Once passed, the Smarter Sentencing Act will do 5 things:
- Save billions on incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders. This bill will not repeal mandatory minimum sentences, but reduce them.
- Drug safety valve reform. If passed, the bill will allow drug offenders who have 1 or 2 criminal history points under the guidelines to qualify for application of the safety valve, so long as the person's prior convictions are not for violent, terrorism, or sex offenses.
- Fix a long-standing racial injustice and strengthens black communities. The bill will permit 8,800 federal prisoners (87% of which are black) who are imprisoned for crack cocaine crimes to return to court to seek a fairer sentence.
- Address over-criminalization. The Department of Justice and other federal agencies would be required to make all federal laws, regulations, their criminal penalties and intent to violate the law publicly available on their websites. Thereby, addressing the fear that too many federal laws and regulations carry criminal penalties and insufficient intent requirements, sending innocent and well-meaning people to jail for unknowingly or unintentionally breaking the law.
- Add new mandatory minimum sentences that harm victims. We expect these mandatory minimum sentences should be removed before the final passage of the bill.
The Justice Department has instituted a "Smart on Crime" initiative to ensure that individuals accused of certain low-level federal drug crimes no longer face excessive sentences that are out of proportion with their alleged conduct and serve no deterring purpose.
These reforms would give judges more discretion in determining appropriate sentences for people convicted of certain federal drug crimes. It would provide a new way for some defendants - who were sentenced under outdated laws and guidelines - to petition judges for sentence reductions that are consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act.
What You Need to Know
How does this affect your loved one?
On July 18, 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to make the two-level reduction in drug guidelines retroactive which means those serving sentences for federal drug convictions can apply for a sentence reduction. This law will go into effect November 1, 2014 unless Congress votes to kill the amendment, which is unlikely.
This new change will not help the following prisoners:
- Those sentenced for crimes other than drugs.
- Those serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. (this change does not affect mandatory minimums)
- Those sentenced under the Career Offender guideline (section 4B1.1)
- Those convicted of state drug crimes in state court
- Those sentenced to a set period of time pursuant to an 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement.
Judges can begin considering retro-activity motions requesting a sentence reduction as early as November 1, 2014, however it is important to note that no prisoner will be released prior to November 1, 2015.
S. 1410′s Potential Impact and $24 Billion Cost Savings (based on DOJ estimate, below)
DOJ’s Cost Savings Estimate for S. 1410: $24 Billion over 20 years
Latest poll results: Pew Research Center: 63% of Americans say that the states' move away from mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes is a good thing (p. 8); two-thirds say that treatment, not jail, should be the solution for heroin and cocaine users (p. 1) (April 2014)