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Task Force Urged to Curb Over-Federalization of Criminal Law

A representative of the Judicial Conference today told a House Judiciary Task Force that policy initiatives curbing over-federalization of criminal law, reforming mandatory minimum sentences and amending the Sentencing Guidelines have the support of the Judicial Conference, but that the Judiciary currently lacks the resources to shoulder resulting increased workload.

“Policy-makers must not create a new public safety crisis in our communities by simply transferring the risks and costs from the prisons to the caseloads of already strained probation officers and the full dockets of the courts,” said Judge Irene Keeley, chair of the Judicial Conference Criminal Law Committee.  “Lasting and meaningful solutions can be attained only if the branches work together to ensure that the correct cases are brought into the federal system, just sentences are imposed, and offenders are appropriately placed in prison or under supervision in the community.”

In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2014, Judge Keeley urged Congress to review existing federal criminal statutes with the goal of eliminating provisions that no longer serve an essential federal purpose, and to use “sunset” provisions to require periodic reevaluation of laws.  The Judicial Conference has long opposed the over-federalization of criminal law, which is a cause of overcrowding in federal prisons.

The Conference also has “consistently and vigorously opposed mandatory minimum sentences and has supported measures for their repeal or to ameliorate their effects,” Judge Keeley said. Mandatory minimum sentences are incompatible with the Sentencing Reform Act, significantly increase correctional costs, and often result in disproportionately severe sentences.

To correct what Chief Justice William Rehnquist called “the unintended consequences” of mandatory minimums, the Conference supports the policies contained in H.R. 3382, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013. The Conference also has endorsed legislation precluding the “stacking” of mandatory minimum sentences. The Conference most recently supported, with certain conditions including delayed implementation, retroactivity for the Sentencing Commission’s recent amendments to the Drug Quantity Table. Implementing this policy on a retroactive basis will result in many inmates being released from prison and into the custody of probation officers, who work for the Judicial Branch.  Without delayed implementation for the Judiciary to seek necessary resources and prepare for this influx of offenders into the probation system, public safety could be compromised.

Related Topics: Congressional Hearing, Judicial Conference of the United States, Legislation, U.S. Sentencing Commission