Yesterday the Federal Defenders Legislative Reform Committee sent a letter in support of legislation to reform federal mandatory sentencing laws. The letter, available here, urges the Senate Judiciary Committee to support two modest attempts to reduce mandatory minimums and constrain unchecked prosecutorial charging power: (1) The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917) and (2) The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2017 (S. 1933). In detail, the letter describes how mandatory minimums are used to coerce low-level offenders into forgoing their trial rights, while enabling more serious offenders to avoid the punishments that Congress.
The letter’s subject headings offer a helpful synopsis of the Legislative Reform Committee’s position:
I. The Human and Financial Costs of the Current Mandatory Minimum Laws Are Unjustified.
II. Real Reform Is Necessary to Prevent the Use of Mandatory Minimums for Purposes for Which They Were Not Intended.
A. Sentences Intended for Kingpins and Serious Traffickers Are Routinely and Mostly Applied to Low-Level Offenders.
B. Severe Mandatory Enhancements Are Routinely Threatened to Coerce Guilty Pleas, Or Imposed to Punish Exercise of the Right to Trial.
C. High-Level Offenders Escape Severe Mandatory Minimums by Cooperating Against Low-Level Offenders.
D. Mandatory Minimums Result in Stark Racial Disparities.
III. The Resolution of These Problems Cannot Depend On Department of Justice Charging Policies.
IV. Other Criminal Justice Reform Bills Will Not Fix These Serious Problems.