Congress is taking steps, even if they are baby steps, in federal sentencing reform. The latest of these under consideration by Congress now is the Second Look Act.

This bill is not yet law nor certain to become law, but it is interesting in several respects:

  • It would allow a Federal Judge to consider reducing a sentence of an inmate who has served at least 10 years of a sentence that is longer than 10 years. The Judge would take into account all factors that it would be required to consider if the case were going to sentencing at the time of the hearing, and the Judge would also consider all relevant factors that have developed since the individual was sentenced.
  • Interestingly, unlike many of the reforms to U.S. sentencing law over the last 15 years, if an inmate qualifies and files a motion, he or she is entitled to a hearing on the motion, and must be present for the hearing. This is most encouraging, because it gives the Judge a chance to see the individual inmate as a human being, rather than just a stack of papers.
  • It is also striking that the bill gives a presumption in favor of release to anyone over the age of 50.
  • Another interesting fact is that the bill is short and straightforward, which means that it will be much easier to implement and administer. And it is primarily administered by the Courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons has relatively little direct input into the process for the average inmate. All of that means that it is less likely to have a long delay in implementation.

The concept of allowing a judge to revisit a defendant’s sentence at a later point is not new to criminal jurisprudence. It is part of the Model Penal Code, but it hasn’t been seriously considered for adoption by the United States until now.

Of course we don’t know when it will pass, and we don’t know what the final language will be, but this is meaningful legislation to those to whom it applies. You can find the text of the bill here.

It should be noted that an organization called FAMM is on the front lines of encouraging bills like this through the long and delicate process. They are to be commended, and they need all the financial support they can get to carry on their good work, so please consider doing that.


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