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From time to time my office distributes press releases and written statements on state and national issues, debate in the Senate, and legislation that I am working on. For your convenience, I post these documents on my site for your review.
Congress Approves Landmark Drug Reform Compromise from Sessions and Judiciary Colleagues
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today commented on the House of Representatives’ passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, a landmark bipartisan compromise to reduce the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine while strategically enhancing enforcement and toughening penalties to more effectively combat trafficking.
Sessions was a lead co-author of the compromise, which was reached on a bipartisan basis with other Committee members. The bill has already passed the Senate and now awaits the president’s signature.
The legislation will increase the quantity thresholds for mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine distribution by 560%: from 5 grams to 28 grams (approximately one ounce, a common quantity in distribution cases) for cases subject to a 5-year mandatory sentence, and from 50 grams to 280 grams for cases subject to a 10-year mandatory sentence. Simple possession of crack would no longer be subject to a mandatory prison term, bringing the treatment of crack cases in line with those of other narcotics.
“The long-awaited passage of these bipartisan reforms brings needed fairness to our sentencing laws while empowering law enforcement with the tools they need to target the worst offenders,” Sessions said.
“From the beginning of this debate, it was clear we needed to strike a balance in measuring these reforms. It was crucial that we achieve greater parity in sentencing while not impeding law enforcement’s ability to protect communities from the devastating violence associated with the sale and distribution of crack cocaine. Under this legislation, serious drug offenders are subject to more serious penalties, including tough new sentencing enhancements—helping to disrupt the drug trafficking operations that claim so many innocent victims. At the same time, the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing has now been significantly reduced to better and more strategically target federal resources at those who distribute wholesale quantities of narcotics.
“The Fair Sentencing Act has the support of the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and the International Union of Police Associations. This has been a very important issue to me, and one I have worked on closely for many years. I am thankful for the diligent efforts of all my colleagues, and am gratified that these reforms have finally been approved. Their passage is a victory for the justice system. I hope the President will sign the bill without delay.”
Today’s passage of the legislation follows an ongoing effort by Sessions to responsibly address the disparity in drug sentencing. In 2001, Sessions joined with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to offer a proposal that would have increased the amount of crack needed to trigger a 5-year mandatory sentence to 20 grams. In 2007, Sessions offered a similar proposal with Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and then-Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO). The one-ounce compromise reached in the Senate will significantly reduce disparities in sentencing without diminishing law enforcement’s ability to combat drug trafficking and related violence.
The compromise legislation also includes a series of enhancements to the Sentencing Guidelines designed to better target drug traffickers who commit acts of violence, lead drug trafficking activity, or try to bribe law enforcement officials. The National District Attorneys Association says the bill will “significantly increase enhancements, targeting those individuals who use crack as weapon in America's neighborhoods.” The National Association of Police Organizations says, “These sentencing enhancements will target and punish those who bring the most destruction to our neighborhoods.”
The legislation also calls upon the Sentencing Commission to study the operational impact of these changes on law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
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