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Congressional Hearing On Mandatory Minimum Sentences Update July 18, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Julie Stewart, president of FAMM, gives us an update on the recent Congressional hearings:

This week’s congressional hearing on mandatory minimum sentences was very encouraging!

Of the five witnesses who testified, four asked the committee to reform mandatory sentencing laws. I was one of them, of course, calling mandatory minimum sentences a “failure” and “un-American”. One of the other witnesses, Grover Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, said “The benefits, if any, of mandatory minimum sentences do not justify this burden to taxpayers.” Even the witness who didn’t endorse sentencing reform, Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney, did admit that some people are serving bizarre sentences as a result of mandatory minimums.

The members of Congress from both parties seemed genuinely interested in what the witnesses had to say, with the exception of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who stayed at the hearing just long enough to offer a statement in support of mandatory minimums and predict a spike in crime if they are reformed. But Rep. Ted Poe, also a Republican from Texas (and a former judge) made clear that he believes judges need enough discretion to fit the punishment to the individual. Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) asked key questions of U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes that helped the committee understand how judges view mandatory sentencing laws. The fifth witness, T.J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol Council, expressed his concern about gun mandatory minimums, in particular as they apply to border agents. Visit FAMM’s website for a summary of the hearing, www.famm.org.

Overall, it was an encouraging hearing and an important step toward serious sentencing reform. Of course, that won’t happen overnight. When I testified before this same subcommittee about mandatory minimums in 1993, it took time for change to happen but it did – the safety-valve for drug offenders was passed.

I am confident change is coming and with your help, it will come sooner. You are a critical part of our strategy for change and you’ll be hearing from us soon about contacting key members of Congress to help us raise the volume and keep the pressure on them to move sentencing reform forward now!

And, of course, we always need your financial support so we can keep sending our federal legislative director, Jennifer Seltzer Stitt, to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, forge partnerships, devise strategies, and build the support we need to succeed. She is so good at what she does – you would be proud of her if you could see her in action! Click here to lend support to Jennifer’s work and all of our efforts to end one-size-fits-all sentencing laws.



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