Senate planning bait-and-switch on mandatory minimum sentacning?

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unveiled the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, "bipartisan" (and that is the first sign this is trouble) legislation that supposedly reduces the number of mandatory minimum sentences imposed by federal laws.

Since the legislation is supported by the Committee's leadership (another bad sign) it has been put on a "fast track," with a hearing on the bill scheduled for this Monday. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has said he is going to fight any amendments that "detract from the bipartisan compromise" will be opposed by leadership.

The neocon authoritarians at The Weekly Standard are outraged that Republicans might be taking steps to roll-back the federal police state, no matter how unjust. The neocons should relax because, as Adam Dick of RPI points out, the bill may actually increase mandatory minimum sentences as much, or more, as it decreases them:

Look at the actual bill and you see that the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is far from the sweeping roll back of mandatory minimums suggested in the press release. In fact, the bill creates several new mandatory minimum sentences and extends the length of maximum sentences.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would create new mandatory minimum sentences for convictions related to:

  • domestic violence;
  • providing “controlled goods or services” to anyone named in a particular US Department of Treasury list, any organization the US designates as a “terrorist organization,” or a “state sponsor of terrorism;”
  • providing goods or services, “without a license or other written approval” from the US government, to anybody “in connection with a program or effort of a foreign country or foreign person to develop weapons of mass destruction;” and
  • providing “defense articles or defensive services, without a license or other written approval of the Department of State, to, or for the use of, a country subject to an arms embargo by the United States.”

Notably, much of the new mandatory minimums in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act are seemingly for the purpose of fighting the US government’s Global War on Terrorism. The proliferation of mandatory minimums through the last few decades found much of its justification in the war on drugs. As the US government is slowly being forced to give up on aspects of that war, it is building up its new liberties suppressing vehicle — the war on terrorism — using the previous war as the model for the new war. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is yet another part of this disturbing trend.

The US Department of Justice’s role in the war on terrorism is largely consumed with creating “terrorists” via entrapment or sting operations instead of actually finding real terrorists for prosecution. What a handy tool it will be for Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents to hang new mandatory minimum sentences over an individual alleged to have taken one action or made one comment that may be interpreted as a step toward aiding terrorism after months or years of a government employee or informant encouraging the individual to run afoul of US law.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act also increases the current 10-year maximum penalty to 15 years for violation of any of a slew of prohibitions related to obtaining, possessing, or transferring a gun or ammunition. Beyond putting people in prison for years for doing something that harms nobody, such sentences create an additional deleterious consequence for many criminal defendants. Long sentences for gun law violations are used by prosecutors as leverage against drug and other crime defendants. Thus prosecutors can pressure defendants to plead guilty instead of demanding a trial. If you make potential sentences long enough, guilty individuals will reluctantly accept excessive sentences and innocent individuals will fold in hopes of leniency in lieu of taking their chances in court.

While some people up against the US judicial system would benefit from some of the reforms in the bill, other individuals will be caught up in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act’s lengthening of prison sentences.

Read all of Adam's article here.

Campaign for Liberty members who oppose mandatory minimum sentences should call their Senators and tell them to oppose any "reform" legislation that extends mandatory minimums in the name of the "War on Terror."


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