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October 1, 2015

Basic elements of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015

As I write this, I am watching (at this link) the tail end of speeches being given by a series of US Senators discussing their pleasure and thanks concerning the bipartisan agreement to propose the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (which I will start calling SRCA 2015).  Here are links to two documents provided by the Senate Judiciary Committee summarizing what appears in this bill:

Here ais the full text of the summary document:

WOWSA!!  And the more detailed section-by-section analysis suggests that lots and lots of badly over-sentenced federal offenders subject to extreme mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in not-so-extreme cases (including folks I have represented or filed amicus briefs on behalf of like Weldon Angelos and Edward Young) might be able to get retroactive relief if this legislation becomes law!!  Thus, to summarize, just the introduction of SRCA 2015 is a huge development, and I strongly believe its provisions can will significantly reshape the federal sentencing and prison system if (and I hope when) it becomes law.

Though I will still need to see the precise text before I will be in a position to really assess all that appears in this bill, these summary documents confirm my hope that this bill was likely to be among the biggest and most ambitious federal sentencing reform efforts we have seen since the enactment of the Sentencing Reform Act more than three decades ago.  Mega-kudos to all involved, Senators and staffers and advocates of all stripes, and now let's see if all the good mojo that this SRCA 2015 represents might get this bill through the Congress in the coming weeks!!

UPDATE The full text of the SRCA runs 141 pages, and the folks at FAMM have it available at this link.

October 1, 2015 at 10:33 AM | Permalink


Right....it's exactly as I feared. We are going to replace "the war on drugs" with a "war on violence" the irony of which will be lost of no one but the Congress. I get the fact that you personally benefit Doug but I'll be writing my Congressperson telling them to oppose the bill.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 1, 2015 11:44:32 AM

25% part is a joke. 6 years! Therefore those incarcerated to be released before then, will never see the benefit. On top of that, 25% off any sentence 4 years or lower (sentences for many low risk offenders, which this is supposed to help) is equal to or less than the 12 months they are already able to receive for halfway house. So there's no ability to earn what they are already possibly able to get. Unless this is in addition to that time, which I highly doubt, there is no benefit for those sentenced 4 years or less.

Posted by: Tina | Oct 1, 2015 11:58:52 AM

This is a huge victory. Anyone who doesn't see it needs to get into the real world. Of course its not perfect or what ultimately needs to happen but opposing the war on drugs and opposing this bill is a contradiction.

Posted by: Antonio Maestas | Oct 1, 2015 3:42:49 PM


Given that it is not yet law I fail to see how it is any sort of victory.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 1, 2015 3:53:40 PM

One observation: State gun crimes will now count towards the repeat 924(c) penalty, 15 as opposed to 25 years under the legislation. This will apply to a lot of Ds. In my district, we see many Ds in Hobbs robbery cases who have prior local armed robbery convictions. These Ds will have much greater man min exposure on a single robbery where a gun was brandished (15 years v. 7 under the current law) I see USAOs now taking more single Hobbs robbery cases (a single 7-11 robbery)with a D who has a qualifying state robbery.

Posted by: AUSA12 | Oct 1, 2015 4:11:34 PM

Opposing the bill, as mere citizens such as I will do, makes sense. We're not representing criminal clients, so lack that bias. We are trying to protect life, limb, and property, and so have that bias--if that can be called a bias, rather than common sense. A bill driven by ginned-up media outrage and so-called high costs of incarceration (when our government pours money down the drain in far-off lands--money it could easily shift to offset these incarceration costs and help ensure safety at home in a far more direct way than propping up distant failed states) is a bill undoing much that, provably, has made people safer over the past three decades. The "mass incarceration" meme has, as its necessary antecedent, mass lawlessness. Now, a bill that aims at reducing mass lawlessness is ones citizens will support--but re-defining anti-social and non-productive conduct in ways to avoid calling it criminal, or to weaken sanctions designed to deter it, is security theatre far more broadly damaging to the concept of ordered liberty than anything the TSA has been accused of doing. Wowsa, yourself.

Posted by: Juan Padron | Oct 1, 2015 6:12:55 PM

Don't hold your breath.Congress is Slow as molasses getting anything done.they are good at giving themselves raises and it's about time for another 5 week vacation.Especially for nonviolent drug crimes.Sentencing is not fair.The bill is vague on state sentencing.The families suffer and the states suffer.States like Massachusetts can afford to keep people in jail.They have no problem getting the money from the tax payers.

Posted by: john | Oct 1, 2015 8:13:55 PM


You speak as if you lack any sophistication or reasoning ability, though the quality of your writing belies stupidity. Are you incapable of understanding that there can be such a thing as overpunishment. Why exactly do you oppose the bill? Is it inconceivable to you that there can be a middle ground? Right thinking folks -- with absolutely nothing in it at all for them (it's not their kids serving these monsterous sentences) -- are trying to do something to address a national disgrace, and you just throw stones and question motives. I am not a lawyer, but what "bias" do criminal defense lawyers have other than having observed the system closely and having seen enough to know we have a real problem with our justice system. Do you even know that our rate of incarceration is six of seven times that of the UK?

Are there particular aspects of the bill that you believe are ill-advised? I hazard a guess you can't point to any specific objections because you are not thinking rigorously. For example, do you have an articulable reason for objecting to certain mandatory minimums being reduced from 20 to 15 years? Of course not.

You are not engaged in evidence-based, robust discussion. You just spout ignorance. It's attitudes like your's that have gotten our system to where it is to today. If you can't familiarize yourself with some basic theories of rational punishment or put yourself in someone else's shoes for a moment, you do not have any basis to opine and probably shouldn't do so.

Posted by: [email protected] | Oct 1, 2015 9:19:40 PM


There may be such a thing as over-punishment but I believe that what we have, for the most part, is far from it,, Like I have said, I would only be troubled by execution for crimes comparable to thefts in the low tens of dollars. Anything more serious than that and I believe that execution has been well earned.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 1, 2015 9:31:20 PM

Change has to start somewhere. It's a step toward the direction of reform instead of no direction at all. It's compromise. Before this Congress couldn't agree or even compromise. But now at least there's a median. Sometimes that's all it takes.

Posted by: D. | Oct 1, 2015 9:34:04 PM


Are you a self-styled prankster, just nuts, or a sadist. It is really hard to tell. You certainly don't seem to capable of rational discussion.

Posted by: [email protected] | Oct 1, 2015 9:38:35 PM

It is progress in the right direction, although definitely only moderate progress. It recalibrates existing and new long sentences, but still calls for a quite harsh regime overall.

The question is, will it forestall more significant reforms in the future, or will it grease the tracks for further efforts by showing that reducing sentences is politically possible, even at the federal level, and even when the changes are retroactive?

I'm a bird in the hand guy, and this is going to trim a meaningful number of years in prison for many, many thousands of people who are wasting away, so on balance, I think that it is worth passing, but I certainly hope we'll see further legislative actions sometime sooner than two decades from now, and I don't have the same sense of "wow" that some supporters do.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Oct 1, 2015 9:41:35 PM

Sadist, definitely. Also, proudly anti-moderate.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 1, 2015 10:35:26 PM

I see a lot of giving matched by lots of taking away. This isn't so much sentencing reform as sentencing reformulation. I suspect the net effect on the ground will be minimal.

Posted by: C.E. | Oct 1, 2015 11:30:36 PM

"The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism. "

Yes please, more arbitrary subjective elements to what purports to be a quasi-scientific/mathematical sentencing system.
We now have congress AND the sentencing commission chasing the judiciary to reman relevant after Booker/Kimbrough.

Posted by: USPO | Oct 2, 2015 12:31:58 AM

This bill is designed to never pass. First, it is 141 pages. That is a bad thing--it means there are lots of things in it that can create controversy. If this bill was designed to pass, it would have been a short and simple bill. Second, it is drastically reducing sentences for violent criminals. That will not fly with Congress during an election year. That is especially true when there are many cities throughout the country experiencing an uptick in violent crime. Third, the retroactivity provisions will draw lots of objections. And, how is the USPO supposed to handle all of these newly released defendants without a HUGE increase in resources. We are talking about thousands and thousands of criminals being released early--all of whom will be starting supervised release. The USPO is stretched thin as it is.

Congress would have been better off to simply (1) revise the safety valve; and (2) revise the drug sentencing provisions to ensure that low-level drug traffickers don't receive lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms. I wouldn't be surprised if some folks added stuff in the bill intentionally to make sure it WOULD NOT pass.

Posted by: Never pass | Oct 2, 2015 7:31:55 AM

Although he's a crackpot, Sanders' bill to re-implement parole is a much simpler, more straightforward solution.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 2, 2015 1:09:20 PM

Dear sir/madaam, Does this Sentencing Reform act referencing gun enhancement include California. My Nephew Antoine Waite is serving 25 to life on a gun enhancement. His primary cononvition is voluntary manslaughter with a sentence of 7 years.

He has not only survived the prison aystem, but has rehabilitated himself.

Posted by: Felicia Rule | Oct 14, 2015 6:28:03 PM

I am so glad to see that we are finnaly seeing that ypu can not lock up a drug problem..I gave sixteen years of my life away when i got out of the marines for selling a dime bag of weed in a park to a guy that looked like he needed help he looked like he wanted some weed but was uncomfortable kinda dorky and so i asked him and he said he wanted a dime i took his money to one of the multiple people in the park that sold weed and gave it to them and i didnt even pinch it i just gave the poor dork his bud and went on my way ....then bam i actually get bullied into pleading guilty to felony manufacture sales and distributiion because they said i could get six years in prison or six years of probation if i pled to it...so i took the charge as a 24 year old kid and when i failed at my probation because i drank a couple beers i ended up in prison...and i turned it into 16 because all i got in prison was a heroin addiction..im not perfect i own i said yes..i like to smoke weed im in a state that figured it out but we got a long way to go still in THE LAND OF THE FREE...MY BODY MY CHOICES MY FREEDOM IF I WILL FIGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM THEN BY GOD YOU GIVE ME MINE...i hurt none but myself and if i hurt one of you then hold me accountable...but to lock me away for drugs and to lose my mother behind walls i cant get through...that is the most cruel inhumane thing u could ever have done to this marine...thank god we broke the camels back and that someone saw..

Posted by: quinn sales | Oct 18, 2015 5:50:18 AM

And solonol youre a fucking nut job dont waste your time breathingjust get on with it.

Posted by: quinn sales | Oct 18, 2015 5:58:20 AM

It's worth noting that the SRCA defines a "serious drug felony" as a drug felony for which "the offender served a term of imprisonment of more than 12 months." I'm not sure how many recidivist sentences were previously triggered by drug felonies that resulted in imprisonment of fewer than 12 months, but I bet it's a relatively small proportion. I suspect the pool of persons qualifying for the enhancements will therefore be roughly the same under the SRCA as it is now.

Posted by: Avi | Oct 22, 2015 1:16:02 AM

I think some of these people have served their time. You have some in prisons that was sentenced to 20 years or more for drug charges, really? When you have murderers and rapist to get less time. It's not fair!

Posted by: Christi | Nov 2, 2015 7:07:51 PM

nice post i love it


Posted by: alexander02 | Dec 19, 2015 11:36:14 AM

they took out the sealing and expungement provisions in section 211. What a disappointment. America, the land of the exceptional criminal record.....till death do us part.

Posted by: Long lost student | Feb 8, 2016 6:42:54 PM

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