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January 6, 2019

Senate passes criminal justice reform bill, sends to House

By Michael H. Joseph

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Our White Plains criminal defense lawyers know how unfair the criminal justice system can be. On December 18, 2018, the White House claimed a major legislative victory after the Senate overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by President Trump.  Lawmakers approved the bill 87-12, after defeating three amendments pushed by conservative Republicans.  The measure now goes to the House, where it is expected to be approved quickly. Our Westchester criminal defense attorneys consider this a step in the right direction.

The vote marked a rare moment of bipartisanship, at a time when lawmakers and the Trump administration are clashing over everything from the border wall to the Russia probe.  Trump congratulated the Senate soon after the measure’s passage, tweeting: “America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes … This will keep our communities safer, and provide hope and a second chance, to those who earn it.” Trump added that he would sign the bill into law.

The legislation would give federal judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts.  It also would reduce life sentences for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years.  Another provision would allow about 2,600 federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty.  The changes were aimed at addressing concerns that the nation’s war on drugs has exploded the prison population without helping people prepare for their return to society. The mandatory minimum sentences often result in unfair and draconian results for crimes that are overcharged in the first place.

However, some lawmakers believe that this would not solve all the problems of the bill, but it would at least ensure some of these most heinous criminals who prey on young children or the vulnerable are not released early from prison.

While the bill had the support of a rare alliance of conservative and liberal advocacy groups, who said the changes would make the nation’s criminal justice system fairer, reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and save taxpayer dollars. Others remarked that the bill would affect only federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the country’s prison population.

Our Westchester criminal defense lawyers know all to well how draconian the Federal mandatory minimum sentences can be with sentences often being improportionate to the seriousness of the crime committed.

 
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