In the 1980s and 1990s, federal lawmakers passed a number of tough-on-crime measures to address growing concerns about the crack epidemic and high crime rates. Now, decades later, the outcome of the crime laws has become apparent: mass incarceration, unfair outcomes, and penalties that do not fit the crime. The federal government realizes that something needs to be done to correct the problems in the federal system, and there is actually bipartisan support for criminal sentencing reform in the U.S. Senate even at a time when political polarization is impeding progress on many important issues.
Just recently, the New York Times reported that senators have come to an agreement on many of the reforms to be included in a broad criminal justice measure to overhaul federal sentencing rules. Although a bipartisan agreement in the senate is a very important first step, however, there is still a long way to go until reform is achieved. Offenders charged on the federal level will continue to face the potential for extremely harsh penalties when facing charges, and it continues to be imperative to get top-notch legal help from a NY criminal defense lawyer with skill and experience.
Federal Criminal Sentencing Reform is Essential to Protect Defendant’s Rights
The proposed reforms that senators have agreed on include a number of provisions intended to fix serious problems with federal criminal laws, including offenders being punished “out of proportion to their crimes.” Changes include reducing the mandatory minimum sentences from 10 years to five for many qualifying federal offenses and reducing the mandatory minimum sentence to 15 years from 20 for certain other federal offenses. With mandatory minimum sentences, judges have no discretion to take mitigating factors into account or to consider the intent of the offender- conviction means no less than the stated amount of jail time no matter what.
The sentencing reforms would also change the three strikes law, which currently calls for life in prison upon a third conviction for certain offenses. Instead of life, the new penalty for a conviction that counts as a third strike would be 25 years imprisonment.
Even as the reforms soften some mandatory minimums, however, there are also some new mandatory minimums being added by the proposed bill. For example, the bill would impose a new mandatory minimum sentence for a conviction for interstate domestic violence and would impose a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons to certain countries or to terrorists.
Juvenile offenders are addressed in the reforms as well. The proposed bill would ban solitary confinement for juveniles; would allow juvenile offenders to seek a sentencing reduction after 20 years of incarceration; and would allow young offenders to have their criminal records sealed so a conviction for an early mistake would not affect their entire future.
Many of the proposals would apply retroactively, making it possible for around 6,500 people currently serving sentences in federal prison to petition for a new sentence.
All of these changes are important to reducing mass incarceration and over-criminalization, but there is no guarantee that the sentencing reform bill will end up making its way through congress even with bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, would need to make the bill a priority for the legislation to have a chance of moving forward this year. A leadership change in the House of Representatives due to speaker John Boehner stepping down also leaves the future of the bill uncertain in the House because it is unclear whether the proposed reforms will have the support of the new leadership team.
Unless and until sentencing reform becomes reality, defendants accused of a federal crime face the very real possibility of being sentenced to penalties that even most lawmakers believe are too harsh. It is imperative to develop an aggressive and strategic response to any federal criminal charges to avoid becoming a casualty of the overly stringent crime bills passed in the 80s and 90s. Contact a NY criminal defense lawyer today to get help fighting charges so you can do everything possible to avoid a lengthy prison sentence that is disproportionate in severity to your alleged crime.