Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws

Via Sentencing Law and Policy we learn that FAMM is sounding the alarm bell and urges everyone to click here and tell your Congressperson to vote no on H.R. 1279, the anti-gang bill.

"Sometime during the week of May 9th, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on H.R. 1279, an extremely harsh and unnecessary gang bill that includes many new and increased federal mandatory minimum sentences."

H.R. 1279, the "Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005," includes many new and increased mandatory minimum sentences. House members need to hear from their constituents that this bill is full of mandatory minimum sentences that will not help deter youth involvement in gangs; it will cost an estimated $7 billion dollars over the next 10 years; and it is an unnecessary federal intrusion into matters traditionally handled by the states.

Here is FAMM's short list of what's wrong with the bill:

  • Adds many new mandatory minimum penalties to the criminal street gangs statute;
  • Broadens the definition of a street gang, and changes the definition of crime of violence to include drug trafficking crimes that involve no violence whatsoever;
  • Increases from five to seven years the mandatory consecutive sentence for carrying or possessing a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense or violent felony;
  • Increases the mandatory penalty for discharging a firearm from ten to 15 years, and
  • Makes defendants convicted of "conspiracy" to commit drug trafficking or crimes of violence eligible for the mandatory consecutive firearm penalties if a firearm is involved, even if the defendant did not possess or use the firearm.

The ACLU opposes the bill as a misguided measure that will harm youth and expand the death penalty. More here. The bill gives the feds the power to decide to try more juveniles as adults, and prevents judicial review of its charging decision. Section 115 of the bill provides:

The Attorney General may prosecute as an adult a juvenile who is alleged to have committed an act after that juvenile's 16th birthday which if committed by an adult would be a crime of violence that is a felony, an offense described in subsection (d), (i), (j), (k), (o), (p), (q), (u), or (x) of section 922 (relating to unlawful acts), or subsection (b), ©, (g), (h), (k), (l), (m), or (n) of section 924 (relating to penalties), section 930 (relating to possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in Federal facilities), or section 931 (relating to purchase, ownership, or possession of body armor by violent felons).

The decision whether or not to prosecute a juvenile as an adult under the immediately preceding sentence is not subject to judicial review in any court. In a prosecution under that sentence, the juvenile may be prosecuted and convicted as an adult for any other offense which is properly joined under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and may also be convicted as an adult of any lesser included offense.'.

America is not under siege from a new group of juvenile super-predators. The ACLU has joined with juvenile groups to write this letter of protest to Congress. It includes these statistics:

National data shows that, in comparison to youth held in juvenile facilities, young people incarcerated with adults are:
* five times as likely to report being a victim of rape;
* twice as likely to be beaten by staff; and
* 50% more likely to be assaulted with a weapon.

A recent Justice Department report also found that youth confined in adult facilities are nearly 8 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities.

Further, minority youth will be disproportionately affected by this policy. Recent studies by the Department of Justice have shown that more than 7 out of 10 youth admitted to state prisons across the country were youth of color. Youth of color sent to adult court are also over-represented in charges filed, especially for drug offenses, and are more likely to receive a sentence of incarceration than White youth even when charged with the same types of offenses.

Section 113 creates a new exception to the hearsay rule called Forfeiture by Wrongdoing:

Rule 804(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence is amended to read as follows:

`(6) FORFEITURE BY WRONGDOING- A statement offered against a party who has engaged or acquiesced in wrongdoing, or who could reasonably foresee such wrongdoing would take place, if the wrongdoing was intended to, and did, procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness.'.

Remember how Attorney General John Ashcroft shopped the sniper case until he found a jurisdiction that would be most amenable to imposing the death penalty? Section 110 expands venue in capital cases:

(a) The trial for any offense punishable by death shall be held in the district where the offense was committed or in any district in which the offense began, continued, or was completed. (emphasis supplied.)

(b) If the offense, or related conduct, under subsection (a) involves activities which affect interstate or foreign commerce, or the importation of an object or person into the United States, such offense may be prosecuted in any district in which those activities occurred.'.

Here's what you can do.

Call your Representative between now and Wednesday, May 11th, the anticipated day of the vote, to let him/her know you don't support the bill. You can reach your member of Congress by clicking the "take action" link at the top of this e-mail, inserting your home zipcode in the box on the right or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When calling, you do not need to say much more than the short paragraph that appears when you look up your Representative.

E-mails and letters are important too. To e-mail or print a letter to send to your Representative, please copy and paste this link into a web browser and it will allow you to send a message.

There is a Senate version of the bill, S. 155, introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen Cornyn, John [TX]; Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA]; Sen Hatch, Orrin G. [UT] and Sen Kyl, Jon [AZ]. H.R. 1279 is an outgrowth of last year's Feinstein-Hatch bill, which we lambasted here and here as fear-mongering and political pandering.

For a non-legalese explanation of the current bill, see this Modesto Bee article. As to what's wrong with increasing the number of juveniles transferred to adult court, see this Vince Shiraldi op-ed.

The Latinos for America Blog explains why this bill will make the problem of gang violence worse, not better.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#1)
    by The Heretik on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:51 PM EST
    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." -Lewis Carroll

    New laws to lock away people who will invariably be of color... What about the real f#*king gangs, you know, the ones on Capitol Hill?

    Congress needs to pass a law that mandates a mandatory minimum of common sense. However, that isn't going to happen. In order to form a more perfect union, Congress needs to go home and nurture on the senses of those who 'elected' them into office. If there is such a thing as free, fair and honest elections anymore, but I doubt it. The Republic is lost. In 2000, George Bush was 'elected'. In 2004, George Bush was 'elected'. So much for 'a perfect union'. The empire reigns supreme. The home of the duped and land of the stupid is what there is now. The home of the brave and the land of the free is gone.

    American gulags. Law and order. Police state. We never had it so good.

    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:53 PM EST
    I'm starting to think Fred Dawes is right, the govt. wants all of the lower classes locked up for the cheap labor.

    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#6)
    by Mreddieb on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:53 PM EST
    It's obvious that this is an Unconstitutioal intrusion into the judiciary. To impose Minimum Sentences is a blatant attempt to micro manage the Courts. Why have judges at all? Just replace them with political hacks .

    Why have judges at all? Just replace them with political hacks.
    Ed, It seems you have hit the true agenda of the radical right on the nailhead.

    If they aren't political hacks already, what the hell are they?

    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#9)
    by Mreddieb on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:53 PM EST
    Thanks Adept Obviously you quite adept at getting to the heart of the matter! :)

    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#10)
    by Mreddieb on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:53 PM EST
    Blaghdaddy You have a point there. A little cynical but insightful as usual.

    Re: Congress Plans New Mandatory Minimum Sentencin (none / 0) (#11)
    by DawesFred60 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:54 PM EST
    so the gang government want's to go after the other gangs? this is a bill not about gangs its about what gang will rule what and how much. anyway the stage is set and the camps will open soon. ed Beckmann is right on the money, and Kdog I hope to hell i am just some old nut-case, because if i am right god help us all. remember this non government both left and right want you to hate our form of government that has been hijacked be evil people with evil ideals, but also remember you can stop it from doing its acts of madness.

    Ed, It seems you have hit the true agenda of the radical right on the nailhead. Oh please. Chances are this will enjoy a great deal of support from Democrats in Congress.

    Just as the Courts are being allowed to bring a little sanity and discretion to the Punishment System, these idiots are scrapping to find a way to keep the prison full to capacity. I am not a conspiracy theorist but looks like Prison Industrial System is alive and well.