Federal mandatory prison terms for certain offenses will come under fresh scrutiny as Democrats assume control of Congress, says the New York Times. Many federal judges, including conservatives appointed by Republican presidents, compain that the automatic sentences strip judges of individual discretion and result in ineffective, excessive penalties, often for low-level offenders. Influential judges say the combination of Democratic leadership and growing Republican support for modest change may provide the best chance in years for a review of the system.
The House Judiciary Committee, under John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), plans hearings on the laws soon. One of the first issues will be the sentencing disparity between offenses involving powder and crack cocaine. The Senate Judiciary Committee has no immediate plans for hearings. Many law enforcement officials support tough, automatic sentences and argue that weakening existing laws will cause an increase in drug trafficking and violent crime. “These sentences can serve a purpose in certain types of cases involving certain types of offenders,” said U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of Washington, D.C. “but when you apply them across the board you end up doing a disservice not just to individuals but to society at large.”