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Senate Passes Bipartisan Compromise Backed by Sessions, Judiciary Senators to Reform Drug Laws
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded the Senate’s passage today of the Fair Sentencing Act, the result of a unanimously supported bipartisan compromise brokered by Sessions and other sponsoring Senators on the Judiciary Committee to reduce the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder-cocaine.
The legislation would 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 in line with that of other narcotics.
Sessions said, “I applaud the Senate’s passage of these significant bipartisan reforms and I thank all of my colleagues who worked so long and so hard on this legislation, especially Senators Leahy, Durbin, Hatch and Coburn. This compromise achieves important fairness in drug sentencing while striking a responsible balance between efforts to reduce penalty thresholds and the need to combat the higher level of violence associated with the trafficking and distribution of crack. It was critical that we find a way to bring greater parity to our drug laws while not doing anything to hamper law enforcement’s ability to protect the innocent victims of drug violence. I believe this compromise does just that. I urge the House to support this bipartisan agreement, years in the making, and to support an approach that reconciles our shared effort to reduce sentencing disparities with the need to disrupt drug trafficking and keep American communities safe.”
These reforms follow an ongoing effort by Senators Sessions to responsibly address the parity in drug sentencing. In 2001, Sessions joined with Senator Hatch to offer a proposal that would increase the amount of crack needed to trigger a 5-year mandatory sentence to 20 grams. In 2007, Sessions offered a similar proposal co-sponsored with Senators Cornyn, Pryor, and Salazar. While some senators have suggested raising the limit to significantly higher amounts, 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. Finally, the legislation calls upon the Sentencing Commission to study the operational impact of these changes on law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
[Note: Click here to view comments from Judiciary Republican Senators on the compromise bill]
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