19th Mar 2015
The bills we have covered so far this year on this blog are the proposals that have the most support. Lest readers think that these are the only ideas that members of Congress have gone on record as supporting, we mention here a few other bills that have been introduced. However, these bills have very little likelihood of passage since only one representative, their author, has officially signed on as supporting them. Most of them were also introduced last Congress but were shelved.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced H.R. 71 and titled it the Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2015. In it, she proposes that nonviolent offenders who are at least 45 years old be released from prison once they have served at least half of his (or her) entire term of imprisonment and have not gotten in trouble for any violent conduct while in prison.
Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced H.R. 1252, titled the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2015. It proposes that all district and appellate courts treat cases as if the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) had been in effect when the sentence was given (or when the sentence is given the first time), even if the offense happened before the FSA became law. If a case that would have been affected by the FSA has a pending appeal and the sentence in that case was given according to the pre-FSA laws and guidelines, appellate courts are to direct the district court to change the sentence in accordance with the FSA. It also proposes that sentences that were given before the FSA became law can be reduced to fit the FSA’s changes by the court without the defendant needing to file a motion. (These proposals are somewhat broader than those in the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015.)
Rep. Scott also introduced H.R. 1253, titled the Prisoner Incentive Act of 2015. This proposes amending 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1), which grants a time credit towards an inmate’s sentence for every year of good behavior, so that prisoners can earn 54 days per year of good behavior and, if these time credits are revoked, they may have these time credits restored. (Presently, BOP regulations interpret section 3624(b)(1) so that prisoners can only earn 47 days per year.)
Another bill by Rep. Scott is H.R. 1254, which is titled the Recidivism Clarification Act of 2015. It proposes removing the mandatory minimum provisions in 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) and editing the language of that section so that penalties for breaking 924(c) would be “stacked” only for subsequent convictions and sentencings, not for subsequent occurrences (the latter is the current practice of prosecutors).
Rep. Scott also introduced H.R. 1255, titled the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2015, which would remove the separate quantity thresholds for cocaine base (crack) in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B), 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(1), and 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(2) that were set by the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act. This change would remove the statutory basis for the crack / powder cocaine distinction that results in much greater penalties for crack-related offenses.
By the way, Rep. Scott is also the main sponsor of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2015, which (unlike the other bills covered here) does have bipartisan support.
It may be encouraging to know that these proposals are being made in Congress, even though, since no sentencing reform laws were enacted last Congress, we have even fainter hopes of this Congress. Regardless, we will post updates as Congress works on proposals for federal sentencing reforms. Stay tuned!
by Viola Coulter