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Congress Close To Passing Significant Criminal Justice Reform


In breaking news, on December 11, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would vote on the long-awaited criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. Perhaps most notably, the bill brings those convicted for crack cocaine offenses prior to the 2010 implementation of the Fair Sentencing Act into line with those convicted after 2010, cutting short a number of unduly long sentences for those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. The bill has even drawn support for Florida-based for-profit prison companies.

What Does The Bill Do, Specifically?

Specifically, the bill reforms federal criminal sentencing and implements a number of other forms by clarifying the following:

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for use of a firearm during a drug or violent crime is limited to those who have previously been convicted and sentenced for a similar offense (i.e. they can no longer be applied to first-time offenders);
  • The three-strike penalty is reduced from life imprisonment to 25 years (and subsequently the 20-year minimum is reduced to 15 years), and can only apply to “the worst criminals,” i.e. offenders convicted of a serious drug or violent felony;
  • A judge can apply the “safety valve” (i.e. an exception to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history) if a defendant has fully cooperated with law enforcement and has not used or threatened to use firearms or violence, or caused death or serious bodily injury;
  • Prisoners sentenced to crack cocaine offenses prior to the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act can petition the court to review their case, and all sentences imposed prior to the 2010 law would be brought in line with sentences imposed after it went into effect;
  • Programs to reduce recidivism and provide incentives will be implemented, including one that allows some prisoners to earn time credits for prelease custody, as well as employment and training opportunities and juvenile parole programs;
  • The compassionate release program within the Second Chance Act would be expanded; and
  • The use of restraints on pregnant inmates is prohibited unless they pose an immediate and credible flight risk or pose a threat or harm to themselves or others; amongst other reforms.

Exceptions & the Need for Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys

Although the legislation does a lot to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing, especially for non-violent offenders, it still carves out a number of exceptions for “violent and high-risk criminals convicted of certain serious offenses,” such as those serving time for sexual exploitation of children, espionage, the fentanyl and heroin drug trade, and crimes related to murder and terrorism. Perhaps most notably, it states that “prisoners are ineligible to apply time credits if subject to a final order of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Although a meaningful step towards prison and mandatory sentencing reform, even if the legislation passes, there will still be a significant amount of unfairness involved in the criminal prosecution process. If you live in Florida and have been accused of a crime, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys in Orlando at the Baez Law Firm today to find out more.


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