Drug Sentencing Overhaul Passes Senate Committee


The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Thursday a bill calling for the most significant overhaul in federal drug sentencing guidelines since the 1970s.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, which passed the Committee on a 13 to five vote, would reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and give judges greater discretion when sentencing defendants.

Judge Patti Saris, Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, said today in a statement that the reforms can help reduce overcrowding and budget woes in federal prisons.

“(The Act) is an important first step toward addressing rising federal prison costs and a federal prison population that far exceeds capacity,” Saris said.

While the Act passed the Judiciary Committee with bi-partisan support, those in the Department of Justice are divided.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder supports the bill, but the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance noted today that it is opposed by the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

“We do not join with those who regard our federal system of justice as 'broken' or in need of major reconstruction,” the organization said. “Instead, we consider the current federal mandatory minimum sentence framework as well-constructed and well worth preserving.”

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