In keeping with the recent trend of bipartisan support for various criminal justice reforms at the federal level, the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 would seek to address the nation’s ever-increasing, and historically unprecedented rate of incarceration. This legislation would ease some of the federal sentencing guidelines for drug-related crimes, though it would not entirely eliminate them. It would further reduce the sentences of up to 200,000 of the currently 2.4 million federally incarcerated inmates.
This legislation is not perfect. It does not re-establish Judicial discretion by wholly eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, but it does reduce some of them. Unfortunately, this legislation would create or increase other mandatory minimum sentences.
Under this bill, the mandatory sentences that are currently issued under the federal “three strikes” law for people convicted of three drug-related crimes would be reduced from a life sentence to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. The mandatory minimum sentence for a second drug conviction would also be reduced from 20 years to 15 years. In many cases these changes would also apply retroactively to currently incarcerated inmates. Judges would also get more discretion to issue sentences below the statutory minimums for defendants who have not been involved in violent crimes, have not been known to possess firearms, and are not part of a “continuing criminal enterprise.”
The bills would also retroactively reduce sentences for inmates who were sentenced under the exceedingly harsh guidelines for crack possession that were required by federal law until 2011. From 1994 to 2011, a person possessing just five5 grams of crack was considered a felon, while a person found with powdered cocaine would have to have 100 grams in their possession for a similar conviction. In 2011 Congress increased the amount of crack required for a similar future convictions to 28 grams, and this bill would apply that change to people convicted of crack possession prior to 2011 as well. The statutory maximum sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon would be increased under the bills from 10 years to 15 years.
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