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July 17, 2013

"Former Federal Prosecutors Endorse Safety Valve: Support Grows for Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Reform"

The title of this post is the heading of this new press release from the folks at Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Here are excerpts:

A group of more than 50 former federal prosecutors and judges today sent a letter to Capitol Hill endorsing the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, legislation that authorizes judges to depart from a mandatory minimum sentence in cases where the minimum is not necessary to protect public safety and would be unjust given the facts and circumstances of the crime and defendant. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 619) in the U.S. Senate, and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the companion bill (H.R. 1695) in the U.S. House.

“The men and women who endorsed the bill today helped to make our country safer by prosecuting and sentencing dangerous criminals,” said FAMM President Julie Stewart. “They know that to improve public safety we must focus our scarce anti-crime resources on violent and repeat offenders.”

In their letters [available here and here] addressed to the Justice Safety Valve Act sponsors in the Senate and House, the former prosecutors and judges wrote:

As Congress looks for ways to improve upon recent gains in public safety, we believe that the reform in S. 619 would prove very valuable. … Under your legislation, dangerous criminals will continue to receive lengthy prison sentences.  For lower-level offenders facing a mandatory minimum sentence, however, courts will be given the power to impose a shorter sentence.  For example, a nonviolent drug seller facing a 10-year mandatory minimum might instead receive a sentence of seven or eight years if a court determines, after considering all the relevant facts, that the ten-year sentence is inappropriate and would punish the street seller more harshly than his more culpable codefendants.  In drug cases, for example, a court might determine that a shorter prison term combined with mandatory drug treatment would be more likely to prevent an individual from re-offending. …

We also support your bill because we believe that the money wasted on keeping nonviolent and nonthreatening offenders locked behind bars for years longer than necessary could be better spent on anti-crime programs that actually will enhance public safety.  This is especially true in the current budget climate.  We think public safety will be improved if limited government resources are targeted on prosecuting and incarcerating violent and repeat criminals.

Some recent and older related posts:

July 17, 2013 at 03:15 PM | Permalink

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Comments

As Bill Otis would say, just a bunch of kooky liberals spouting off.

Posted by: observer | Jul 17, 2013 3:22:27 PM

"We also support your bill because we believe that the money wasted on keeping nonviolent and nonthreatening offenders locked behind bars for years longer than necessary could be better spent on anti-crime programs that actually will enhance public safety."

Give me a break. More liberal nonsense. Oh, who wrote this? You say 50 former federal prosecutors? So what. As Federalist and others would say, "just a bunch of hacks."

Posted by: Dave from Nevada | Jul 17, 2013 3:25:57 PM

"We also support your bill because we believe that the money wasted on keeping nonviolent and nonthreatening offenders locked behind bars for years longer than necessary could be better spent on anti-crime programs that actually will enhance public safety."

Nonsense. Prison alone enhances public safety. There's a reason why these guys are "former" prosecutors. They're just liberals who wanted experience before making the real bucks as defense lawyers.

Posted by: rebel | Jul 17, 2013 3:44:14 PM

Reading the list of signatories makes even me feel young. The majority of them were in the government 10, 20 and 30 years ago, and have long since started buttering their bread either in academia (like die-hard liberals Nancy Gertner and Mark Osler) or -- guess what!! -- as defense lawyers. Fancy that.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 17, 2013 4:53:44 PM

Whether or not they make Bill feel young, it's a fair point to ask when the signatories' service in the specified roles occurred in terms of whether it enabled them to witness from that vantage point (as opposed to some different vantage point, such as that of defense counsel) the impact of the current mandatory-minimum regime in its full glory. So, e.g., Judge Bassler (served on the D.N.J. from 91 to 06, Republican appointee, not sticking out in my memory as notably squishy for a Republican nominee in that district although I suppose I could be wrong on that) would definitely have had that vantage point whereas Judge Gibbons (Nixon appointee to 3d Cir who retired from the bench to go back into private practice in '90) might not have.

Posted by: JWB | Jul 17, 2013 5:59:10 PM

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) who co-introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 619) in the U.S. Senate, and Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY)who co-introduced the bill in the Senate have gone soft on crime and criminals.

Posted by: rebel | Jul 17, 2013 6:43:30 PM

JWB --

Judges want more power, and defense lawyers want shorter sentences (which is what they know they'll get, what with the power being exercised in only one direction).

OK, got that.

The only surprising part of this is that they could only get 50 signers.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 17, 2013 11:21:15 PM

It's bogus to claim that the main effect of the. Hange would be to change 10-year mm sentences to 7 years plus drug treatment. What the signatories really want is to empower judges to impose drastically shorter sentences -- probably from probation to two years. If all you want is a thirty-per-cent discount, the bill would be written quite differently.

Also, this omits to mention that safety valve treatment is already available for the example drug defendant as long as she has a relatively clean criminal history. Again, if all they want is to change the criminal history threshold (say from 2 points to 4), the bill would be written quite differently. The bill instead is currently designed to let even a multiple murderer take advantage of any atypical judge's leniency.

Posted by: Notalegislator | Jul 18, 2013 10:18:14 AM

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