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Hopes for Criminal Justice Reform Fade

September 29, 2016, on Criminal Defense Articles |

Criminal justice reform enjoys bipartisan support at the federal level because it is so clear that there are problems with the current rules for criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, despite strong efforts to move forward with positive change, it appears likely that the legislation that would have the best chance of passing Congress has now stalled.

Criminal justice reform is essential in this era of mass incarceration to ensure defendants don't face lengthy and unfair sentences for crimes they are accused of committing. Until reform becomes a reality, it is especially important for defendants to be represented by a New York City federal criminal defense attorney who will help them fight serious charges that could result in harsh consequences.

Legislative Efforts for Reform Seem to Have Stalled

The United States is currently spending $80 million annually to incarcerate defendants, many of whom are serving lengthy prison terms because of mandatory minimum sentences. Therefore, judges were not able to consider mitigating factors or actual culpability during the sentencing process.

Reforming the criminal justice system had been a top priority for President Barack Obama this year, in recognition of the serious problems with the current sentencing laws and guidelines. While quietly working behind the scenes to help lawmakers facilitate compromise legislation, the President also commuted the sentences of 348 non-violent drug offenders over the course of the year.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle attempted to find a compromise bill that would pass Congress and allow for meaningful change for many more people than the small group who had their sentence commuted. 

Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Mike Lee sponsored legislation to reduce some of the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and John Cornyn sponsored legislation to establish programs that would reduce the number of repeat offenders.  When neither bill appeared poised to advance, new legislation was introduced in October to combine the two issues.

The legislation would have created recidivism programs, reduced mandatory minimums and given judges more discretion. It passed in committee, and it was reformed in response to concerns that it was too lenient on violent criminals. While the revised compromise legislation was drafted in May and appeared likely to have bipartisan support, the bill unfortunately did not move forward, as other priorities including efforts to combat the Zika virus and partisan fights over gun control took precedence.

Now, time is running out and Real Clear Politics indicates that the bill is stalled and likely to remain stalled for the foreseeable future as the focus turns to the upcoming November election.  Unfortunately, this means that political concerns have taken precedence over affecting meaningful change for people whose lives are affected by unfair and unjust criminal laws.

Defendants need to be aware of the possibility for overly harsh penalties and lengthy mandatory minimum sentences. A federal criminal defense attorney in New York City should be consulted to provide assistance to defendants facing charges. Contact The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC today for help. 

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