President Trump has put his backing behind a new bill that has tentative bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. If signed into law, this bill would be the most substantial change to federal sentencing guidelines since 1994. The law would boost rehabilitation measures and give judges more flexibility in handling mandatory minimums that have disproportionately affected minorities. It would also reduce the expense and size of the penal system, which has three times the inmates it did 30 years ago. There are a details in this bill, but the highlights include:
- No more stacking: Current federal laws “stack” charges if there are weapons involved. This means that the prosecution adds weapons charges to a drug charge if a firearm was found in possession of the defendant. This is regardless of whether the firearm was used or the defendant was a non-violent offender.
- Crack cocaine treated same as powdered version: The new law would treat sentencing for powdered cocaine and crack cocaine to be the same. The change was initially made in 2010 but would be confirmed here. As with stacking, this change is an equalization of sentencing that previously punished minorities at a higher rate.
- Rehabilitation instead of incarceration: Redemption is a powerful narrative here in the U.S. This bill would boost systemic rehabilitation efforts and give judges more leeway on sentencing of non-violent offenders.
Chance for becoming law?
The president says that he is waiting with a pen in his hand for the new bill. However, there are other priorities in the lame duck session of Congress, including a new federal budget and a farm bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell points to these priorities but also has said that there will be a vote if the bill has the 60 votes needed to pass. The Senate bill is slightly different from the House’s version, so the House would need to vote again to get this bill to the president.
These changes could impact the state’s sentencing guidelines as well. Regardless of the charges, it is always helpful to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to best understand legal options that include sentencing.