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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

U.S Senate Committee on the Judiciary September 18, 2013 Public Hearing Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences

 
Today the U.S. Senate (Washington, D.C.) held a hearing on the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences. 

Previously the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary has held two hearings this year (June 14 and July 19) on the Over-Criminalization of America which is closely related to Mandatory Minimum Sentences.

  • June 14, 2013 House Hearing you can watch the video of the hearing and read the written testimony from the Chairman and the invited speakers. 
  • July 19, 2013 House Hearing you can watch the video of the hearing and read the written testimony from the invited speakers. 
If you chose to watch today’s (September 18th) Senate webcast you can click below

The video runs for 1 hour 35 minutes. 

Today’s Hearing Written Statements/Testimony

Invited Speakers

The main push at the Federal level with the Over-Criminalization of America and the elimination of Mandatory Minimum has been for drug convictions. 

So far no national group has taken a public stand to reform the Federal sentences for viewing or sharing child pornography images. Viewing and downloading free on-line images have resulted in prison sentences of a 100+ years whereas being the person who commits the abuse, produces the image and/or sells the image for money faces a much lower sentence. In 2009 there was a case here in Virginia where a college professor spent 45 minutes on one website with child pornography and he was facing 140 years in prison.  

Mr. Tolman’s written/oral statement from today’s hearing was excellent!  
 


During the Q & A portion of the hearing the questions from Chairman Leahy to Mr. Tolman and the answers were also very, very good. If you watch the video be sure to pay attention to the question at 48:30 on the timer. “Are M.M.’s needed to ensure public safety?” The answer Mr. Tolman gives references “child predator” sentences but then he points out the stacking of charges by prosecutors.

Then questions to Mr. Levin, in Texas we learn that there are no M.M’s except for rapists which is the second lowest re-offense rate of all crimes.

Senator Cornyn made some very positive comments during the Q &A portion asking two of the speakers to elaborate on his point.

For those of you who watched the video, did you notice for a Full Committee hearing with 18 members that only 5 Committee members attended and by the end of the hearing it was down to 2?

Finally……

This is my stance on Mandatory Minimums both State and Federal and I have publicly stated portions of this as recently as the 2012 Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond.

Guidelines should provide sufficient flexibility so that judges can craft orders designed to reduce the risk of recidivism in appropriate cases, and should avoid overly broad, strict, or arbitrary sentencing mandates that interfere with more appropriate sentencing options.

With mandatory minimum sentences there is no discretionary component for the specifics of the crime. It makes no difference if the offender is a lifetime criminal or a first-time offender

Mandatory Minimums allow our Legislators to steal jurisdiction over sentencing, which has historically been a judicial function. By our Legislators transferring power from Judges to Prosecutors and the Executive Branch violates the principles of our Constitution and have, in the process, given Prosecutors unreviewable authority to influence sentences through their charging decisions and plea bargaining power.

Separations of powers within the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the United States government are kept distinct in order to prevent abuse of power. We should not legislate away the discretion of the courts.

Mandatory minimums are not just bad policy, but an abuse of power by the legislative branch. The facts, evidence, testimony and the individuals involved must all be considered in each individual case in order for real justice to prevail.

The Federal Legislators are considering stepping away from some Mandatory Minimums which is a step in the right direction, so how long before Virginia stops proposing new Mandatory Minimums and increasing current Mandatory Minimums every year?

Thank you for following this blog. 

Mary Davye Devoy