The criminal justice system in this country is extremely structured, both at the federal and the state level. In many cases, judges do not have discretion when sentencing an individual convicted of committing a specific crime, due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. As a result, gone are the days in which a judge can determine whether a shorter sentence may be beneficial for the convicted individual. Further, three strikes laws have sent many individuals to prison for extended periods of time, well beyond the collective time period for each of the crimes individually. Retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney, in many cases, can be the only distinguishing factor between a long prison term and the ability to begin one’s life again. On December 18, 2018, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a criminal law reform bill known as the First Step Act. Although it awaits U.S. House approval and then a signature by President Trump, it is expected that both will occur shortly. A discussion of the implications of this Senate Bill, as well as its practical effects should it be signed by the President in its current form, will follow below.
First Step Act of 2018
Senate Bill 756, which passed the Senate in an 87-12 vote, is set to be a substantial change to prosecution of federal drug crimes in the United States. Some of the highlights include the following:
- The bill, in an attempt to keep the toughest sentences on only the most violent offenders, lowers mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug felonies;
- The bill also reduces the automatic life sentence penalty for drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” to 25 years;
- The bill gives judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent drug offenders;
- The bill allows those federal prisoners in jail for crack cocaine offenses committed before August 2010 to petition for a reduced penalty;
- The bill encourages prisoners to participate in programs designed to reduce the risk of recidivism, with the reward being an earlier release to a halfway house or home confinement to finish out their sentence (although this aspect will not apply to those convicted of violent firearm offenses, sexual exploitation of children, and high-level fentanyl and heroin dealing); and
- The bill clarifies that prisoners can get days of credit for good behavior.
First and foremost, SB 756 is only applicable to federal prisoners, who, according to the cited article, make up only 10 percent of all prisoners. Second, this bill is applicable only to prisoners who have been convicted of the crimes set forth in the bill (such as those mentioned above), which constitutes just five percent of those imprisoned in this country. Thus, some estimates are that this bill is only applicable to about 80,000 current prisoners.
Additionally, as mentioned above, this bill has only passed the Senate. While all indications are that it will pass the House and be signed by the President before Christmas, there is no guarantee, especially in light of the provisions included to obtain Senate votes that impose limitations on recidivism programs, which may stall the bill in the House.
Nevertheless, if an individual fits within the parameters set forth in this bill, he/she may now be eligible for a reduced sentence. If this bill becomes law, retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure that the judge properly applies these changes.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. The track record of the attorneys shows an extensive knowledge base of criminal defense law. We can work with you to prepare the most effective defense on your behalf to counter the charges against you, and we can prepare a strategy to mitigate any penalties that may be imposed. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for s a free case analysis.