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Sentencing Reform Act of 2015

Federal sentencing reform continues to gain momentum in Congress. Today, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to send the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713) to the House Floor.

Similar to other bills, the Sentencing Reform Act aims to reduce the federal prison population, especially for those offenders serving harsh mandatory minimum drug sentences. This bill includes reducing mandatory minimums from life in prison to twenty-five years and twenty-year minimums to fifteen years for prior drug felons. It also retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act,[1] which would allow over five thousand inmates to seek a reduction of about one-fifth of their sentences.

The Act also attempts to create a new “safety valve” to create greater relief for non-violent drug offenders by reducing a ten-year mandatory minimum to five years for those that meet certain criteria. To qualify, inmates must not have a serious drug, or violent, felony conviction; must not use violence or a firearm in connection with the offense; did not play an enhanced role in the offense by being a leader or high-level supplier; and did not sell a controlled substance to someone under eighteen years old.

While the bill aims to reduce unjust sentences for non-violent offenders, it also wants to ensure violent offenders serve their full prison terms. Politicians want to avoid being “soft” on crime and supporting this Act will allow them to stay the course.

Bipartisan support continues to push federal sentencing reform further towards reality. Besides reducing overcrowding in federal prisons, it can also free up money for the Department of Justice. The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that the costs of federal prisons and detention account for one third of the Department of Justice’s budget annually. Talking dollars tends to get the attention of everyone and might be the extra incentive to pass this much needed legislation. To continue to track the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713) click here. The Senate also introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123), which you can track here.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney licensed in federal court. Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For a free consultation, please call 612-547-3199 or email: ambroselegal@icloud.com.

[1] The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the mandatory minimum disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

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