The current safety valve allows judges to sentence below mandatory minimum levels for a non-violent drug crime. Bills introduced in both the House and the Senate this year would expand the use of the safety valve beyond just drug crimes and would give relief to judges and defendants facing overly-punitive mandatory sentences.
A prison sentence is, among other things, intended to punish the individual. However, mandatory minimum sentences are often overly punitive, putting a non-violent offender in federal prison for years because of the constraints of federal sentencing laws.
Mandatory minimums were enacted as a way to get tough on crime, but have contributed to the overcrowding of prisons, the ballooning expense of the Department of Corrections and the destruction of families as one parent or partner is sent away for several years. The proposed act would allow judges to sentence below mandatory minimum levels if:
- The mandatory minimum would end in an over-punishment for the crime
- Notice is given to both the defendant and the prosecutor that the judge intends to sentence below mandatory minimums
- The judge makes specific findings as to why the lower sentence was appropriate
There has been little movement on the bills since introduced in both houses of Congress; both headed to committees within their respective branches this spring. However, the need for increased sentencing discretion is still very real as the Justice Department implements its own plan to avoid charging offenses that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences when appropriate.
For more information, please see: Sentencing Discretion For Judges? A Look At The Current And Proposed Safety Valve Acts