UPDATE: Although the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 was not enacted, it was reintroduced in Congress in 2015. Read our post about its newest version, or, for other developments, see a list of all our posts on bills in Congress.

The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 gives judges discretion to not abide by a mandatory minimum if they believe the mandatory minimum is unjustly high.

Why is this a good thing?

In the current system, the prosecutor has broad discretion over what to charge a defendant with. They often have the option of charging a defendant for a crime with a high mandatory minimum or prosecuting for a lesser offense. This subverts the justice system as it was intended to function because originally the judge (not the prosecution) was supposed to decide what the most just sentence was. Now, the prosecution can decide what to charge a defendant with, and the judge is forced to follow the mandatory minimum of the charges the prosecution chose.

The bill, if passed, would also apply to any charge with a mandatory minimum, not just drug crimes. It is broad, simple, and short (in its present form).

How might this bill disappoint us?

As we know, just because a Court can give a lower sentence does not mean that it will. We hope that this bill will result in more just sentences, but the bill, if passed, will not make any given Judge do anything differently.

How can one follow the progress of the bill?

This bill is S. 619 in the Senate and H.R. 1695 in the House. Currently, the texts in both chambers are identical (but most bills are amended at some point, so that will likely change). In both chambers, the bill is ready for consideration by the appropriate committee, which is the first stage of the process of a bill becoming law.

Stay tuned for more updates!