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Monday, November 25, 2013

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Legislation in the 113th Congress

Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist in American Public Law

Defendants convicted of violating any certain federal criminal laws face the prospect of mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. Bills offered during the 113
th Congress would supplement, enhance, or eliminate some of these. In the most all-encompassing, H.R. 1695 (Representative Scott (Va.)) and S. 619 (Senator Paul) would permit federal courts to impose a sentence below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum when necessary to avoid violating certain statutory directives.

Federal drug statutes feature a series of mandatory minimums. S. 1410 (Senator Durbin) would reduce several of the most severe of these. H.R. 3088 (Representative Waters) would eliminate virtually all of them. The Durbin bill would also enlarge the safety valve exception. The safety valve provision allows a federal court to sentence qualified defendants below the statutory mandatory minimum in drug cases, if the defendant has a virtually spotless criminal record, that is, not more than one criminal history point. S. 1410 would expand safety valve eligibility to defendants with a slightly more extensive criminal record. Elsewhere, H.R. 2372 (Representative Scott (Va.)) would drop the sentencing distinction between powder and crack cocaine by striking the cocaine base specific references. Two proposals address the Fair Sentencing Act’s retroactive application. One, H.R. 2369 (Representative Scott (Va.)) would permit a court to reduce, consistent with the act, a previously imposed sentence for crack cocaine possession or trafficking. The second, S. 1410 (Senator Durbin), would also permit a court to reduce such sentences, but would limit the authority to instances in which the defendant had not been previously granted or denied a similar reduction.

The firearms bills are mixed. H.R. 2405 (Representative Scott (Va.)) would strip the mandatory minimums from §924(c) that outlaws possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence or serious drug offense. On the other hand, H.R. 722 (Representative King (N.Y.)) would add two years to each of §924(c)’s mandatory minimums, if the firearm were stolen or had had its serial number defaced. H.R. 404 (Representative Schiff) would establish a two-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for violation of either of the two firearm acquisition false statement (straw purchaser) proscriptions, if the offense involved two or more firearms and an intent to subsequently transfer them to an ineligible person. H.R. 117 (Representative Holt) would require the Attorney General to establish a system of handgun registration and licensing. Possession without a federal license or of an unregistered handgun would be punishable by imprisonment for not less than 15 years.

Several proposals add or enhance the mandatory minimums associated with individual offenses. For instance, H.R. 1468 (Representative Blackburn) would create a separate crime for anyone who, during and in relation to a computer fraud or abuse violation, substantially impaired or attempted to impair the operation of a critical infrastructure computer system or an associated critical infrastructure. H.R. 457 (Representative Issa) would establish mandatory minimum penalties for an alien previously removed from the U.S. for his criminal activities. H.R. 1577 (Representative Poe) and S. 698 (Senator Cornyn) would expand the class of protected public servants; increase the penalties associated with homicides committed against them; establish mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for killing or assaulting them; and create a new flight-to-avoid-prosecution offense for fugitives accused of such crimes, punishable by a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.

Date of Report: November 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R43296
Price: $29.95

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