President Obama backs a bipartisan proposal to cut many federal mandatory minimum sentences in half, reports USA Today. The commitment came at a meeting with 16 members of Congress at the White House Tuesday to gather their ideas on overhauling the criminal justice system. Members of Congress who attended said the main topic was the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. Obama supported a similar bill in the last Congress; the current proposal goes further. Mandatory life terms would be reduced to 20 years, cutting sentences in half. The current life sentence averages 40 years.
Another change: Those convicted of importing drugs into the U.S. would not be eligible for reduced sentences unless they were couriers whose role was limited to transporting or storing drugs or money. Labrador said, “The main obstacle is the perception that sentencing reform will lead to more crime. And I think the opposite is true.” Many federal prosecutors believe the threat of long mandatory sentences is necessary to negotiate plea bargains and avoid overwhelming the system with trials. Labrador said the Obama administration needs to work out those concerns in the Justice Department. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who attended the meeting, believes House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) seemed “remarkably open” on the issue.