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FAMM: Reform Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws, Witnesses Tell Senate Committee


Sept. 18, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 18, 2013 -- At a packed public hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, a former federal prosecutor and the director of a conservative criminal justice reform group called on U.S. Senators to roll back federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These witnesses told committee members that one-size-fits-all penalties do more harm than good, a message confirmed by the dozens of FAMM members who traveled from across the country to attend the hearing.

"Today's hearing was a small step in the legislative process, but a giant leap for sentencing reform," said FAMM president Julie Stewart. "I am encouraged by what I heard this morning. The senators seemed to recognize that mandatory minimum sentencing laws are a terrible deal for taxpayers. They understand that we can improve public safety without wasting so many lives and so much money."

Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the co-author with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, said, "The number of mandatory minimum penalties in the federal code nearly doubled from 1991 to 2011. Many of those mandatory minimums originated right here in this Committee room. When I look at the evidence we have now, I realize we were wrong. Our reliance on a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing has been a great mistake. Mandatory minimums are costly, unfair, and do not make our country safer."

Sen. Paul told committee members, "Each case should be judged on its own merits. Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening. Mandatory minimum sentencing has done little to address the very real problem of drug abuse while also doing great damage by destroying so many lives."

The committee also heard from Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor in Utah. Tolman criticized how mandatory minimums were used in drug cases. He said, "The threat of long mandatory minimum sentences has not resulted in the identification of high-level leaders of drug organizations by low-level targets, primarily because "kingpins" are smarter than that -- they insulate themselves so the "mules" and street-corner dealers either do not know who they are or do not have enough information to lead to their discovery let alone prosecution. As a result, the long federal sentences routinely go to the lower-level targets while the "kingpins" and their drug trafficking operations continue to thrive."

Marc Levin, the policy director of the Right on Crime Initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, testified about the great progress states across the country have made in reducing crime while reforming their sentencing laws. Mr. Levin noted that the remarkable Texas has achieved in reducing its prison population and crime rate through use of recidivism-reducing programs and alternative sanctions would not have been possible if the state had more mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

More than 40 FAMM members from across the country attended the hearing this morning, many carrying pictures of loved ones serving excessive mandatory minimum prison terms. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Leahy acknowledged the family members who made the effort to attend the hearing by asking FAMM members to stand.

Ms. Stewart and FAMM member Lisa Angelos, whose brother is serving a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence, submitted written statements at the hearing.