Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013
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The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (S. 1410) is a bill in the United States Senate that focused on limited federal resources and amends the federal criminal code to direct the court to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the criminal history category for the defendant is not higher than category two (under current law, that the defendant does not have more than one criminal history point).
Under the language of the version in the Senate Judiciary Committee, it authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government, or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed.
Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (CSIEA) to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing, or exporting specified controlled substances.
Directs the Commission to review and amend its guidelines and policy statements applicable to persons convicted of such an offense under the CSA and CSIEA to ensure consistency with this Act and to consider specified factors, including:
- its mandate to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity,
- fiscal implications of changes,
- relevant public safety concerns,
- the intent of Congress that penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe, and
- the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.
Requires the Attorney General to report on how the reduced expenditures on federal corrections and cost savings resulting from this Act will be used to help reduce overcrowding, increase investment in law enforcement and crime prevention, and reduce recidivism.
The bill was introduced on July 31, 2013 by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and referred to the Judiciary Committee on October 20, 2013. It is related to the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, the Federal Prison Reform Act of 2013 (S. 1783) and others, in an effort to deal with the over-crowded, and under-funded, federal prison system.
Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it gained cosponsors from both parties. In 2013, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) established a six-month, bipartisan Over-Criminalization Task Force to address the scope and size of the federal criminal code and regulations. The Task Force expired in November 2013, but advocates supported a re-authorization for another six-month term and asked the Chairman to hold a hearing on sentencing laws. The House version of the Act had 18 co-sponsors by February 2014. The bill continued to gain momentum in the Senate and House. By June 2014, 25 co-sponsoring Senators (17 Democrat, 6 Republican and 2 Independent) joined to show their support. The House had 38 co-sponsors (24 Democrat and 14 Republican).
The bill did not have any further action in the legislative season as was re-introduced as the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (or S502) by Republican Senator of Utah Mike Lee. The House of Representatives version, known as HR920, was re-introduced by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador in February 2015.
Movement to passage
The bill was held over during several meetings in the fourth quarter of 2013. It gained momentum on January 30, 2014 when the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it and agreed to move the bill to the floor for additional work. The Act was passed by a vote of 13 to 5.
On March 11, 2014 updates were done. Most of the original text was lined through and new text was incorporated. The United States Sentencing Commission scheduled a vote of for April 10, 2014, to consider a reduction in the base level offense of certain drug convictions. The decision was unanimous by the Commission in favor of the reductions which impacts potentially 70% of the drug offense prison population. The chair of the Commission issued a statement on the same day saying that "This modest reduction in drug penalties is an important step toward reducing the problem of prison overcrowding at the federal level in a proportionate and fair manner," said Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission. "Reducing the federal prison population has become urgent, with that population almost three times where it was in 1991."
- Justice Reform, At Long Last, The Huffington Post, January 30, 2014
- Kinder, Gentler:Less Time Inside for Less-Serious Crimes, The Economist, January 30, 2014
- Too Many Americans Are Incarcerated for Too Long, The Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2014