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May 11, 2005

Legislative debate over mandatory minimums heating up

As evidenced by this New York Times story entitled "Congress Rekindles Battle on Mandatory Sentences," the struggle over mandatory minimum sentencing provisions is really starting to heat up.  The NY Times piece provides effective background on the broader issue of mandatories, and it also provides some details on developing legislation.

Of particular note, the Times article states that "the House is expected to approve on Wednesday" the gang bill, HR 1279, which has a number of mandatory minimums (and is discussed here).  The article further reports that "prospects for the measure in the Senate are uncertain, but opponents concede that as an anti-gang bill nicknamed 'gangbusters' it is likely to pass in some form." 

An article appearing in CQ Today also covers the debate over HR 1279, and it reports that "Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is expected to introduce an amendment stripping the bill's mandatory minimum provisions during floor debate" and that other planned "Democratic amendments would remove provisions that would prosecute youths as adults, subject gang defendants to the death penalty and direct more funds aimed at combating gangs to local law enforcement." 

These reports spotlight that supporters of the developing bills stress the importance of mandatory sentences in encouraging defendants to cooperate.  Indeed, I think these bills are best understood as efforts to maximize prosecutors' bargaining leverage rather than as efforts to remedy any identified need to increase sentences for particular crimes.  The Times article, aided by a quote from Virginia Representative Robert Scott, highlights an important point about the true impact of mandatory minimums:

Opponents ... argue that because prosecutors and judges need no incentives to punish the most egregious offenders with the most severe penalties, the mandatory sentences would fall mainly on lesser offenders.  "If it makes sense, you don't need it.  But when it doesn't make sense, it kicks in,"  Mr. Scott said.

UPDATE: TalkLeft has this extended post about the likely House vote on HR 1279 and problems with the "get-tough" measures in the bill.

May 11, 2005 at 01:52 AM | Permalink

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