Sen. Kennedy Introduces Bill to Repeal Feeney Sentencing Provisions

Tuesday, Senator Kennedy, joined by Senators Leahy, Feingold, and Lautenberg, introduced S.1086 (The JUDGES Act) to repeal provisions of the PROTECT Act (Amber Alert Bill) that do not specifically deal with the prevention of the exploitation of children -- specifically the Feeney Amendment. A similar bill is being introduced in the House by Rep. Conyers.

The remarks of Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Leahy, beginning at S6711 of the Congressional Record of 5/20/03, included the following:

Mr. President, it is a privilege to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation on fairness in our Federal sentencing system. The Judicial Use of Discretion to Guarantee Equity in Sentencing Act, or the JUDGES Act, will repeal a number of controversial sentencing provisions that were added at the last moment to the recently enacted ``AMBER Alert law'' on missing, abducted, and exploited children.

These provisions--called the ``Feeney Amendment''--have nothing to do with protecting children, and everything to do with handcuffing judges and
eliminating fairness in our Federal sentencing system. As Chief Justice Rehnquist said, they ``do serious harm to the basic structure of the sentencing guidelines system and . . . seriously impair the ability of courts to impose just and responsible sentences.''

The Judicial Conference of the United States, the American Bar Association,
the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and many prosecutors, defense attorneys, lawprofessors, civil rights organizations, and business groups vigorously opposed them. Now that the child-abduction legislation has passed, it is the responsibility of Congress to repeal these extraneous and ill-considered provisions and begin a serious and thorough review of the current sentencing guidelines system.

It is important for Congress to undo the damage done to the Federal criminal
justice system. The JUDGES Act, which we are introducing today and which Congressman CONYERS is introducing in the House, repeals the provisions of the Feeney Amendment that do not specifically involve sex crimes or crimes against children--the purpose of the underlying child-abduction legislation
to which it was attached. In the place of these ill-advised changes to Federal sentencing law, the JUDGES Act directs the Sentencing Commission to report to
Congress within 180 days on the incidence of downward departures from the
Sentencing Guidelines. The Commission's report will provide Congress with
useful information to evaluate the need fort rates of departures by district, circuit, offense, and departure ground. It will also provide a review of departure appeals, an assessment of the extent to which departures affect the guideline system, and an assessment of variations in the magnitude of departures and the frequency with which the final sentences result in imprisonment, other conditions of confinement, or release.

When completed, the Commission's report will provide a solid basis for further action by Congress. We need to hold hearings; collect the relevant data; consult with the judges, the Sentencing Commission, the Justice Department, the defense bar, and other authorities; and decide whether legislation is needed to improve the sentencing guidelines. If judges are abusing their discretion, we should limit it. If more discretion is ppropriate, we should provide it. In the words of Chief Justice Rehnquist, ``Before such legislation is enacted there should, at least, be a thorough
and dispassionate inquiry into the consequences of such action.''

It was a serious mistake for Congress to enact the Feeney Amendment over the strong objections of the Chief Justice, the Judicial Conference, the American Bar Association, the Sentencing Commission, and the overwhelming majority of prosecutors and defense attorneys who deal with the guidelines on a daily basis. The JUDGES Act will correct this mistake and set us on the right path to achieving any necessary reforms. I urge my colleagues to support it.

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