Former Judges and Prosecutors Back Reduced Sentences for Low-Level Drug Crimes

More than 40 former judges and prosecutors are backing efforts to reduce sentences for people convicted of low-level drug crimes, while still reserving harsher penalties for more serious offenders.

In a letter organized by TCP and delivered to the United States Sentencing Commission on March 18, the former government officials endorsed a proposed change in federal sentencing guidelines that would lower the base offense associated with various drug quantities involved in drug trafficking crimes. The amendment, which the sentencing commission proposed in January, would reduce sentences for about 70 percent of all drug trafficking offenders.

The officials’ support for the change stems, in part, from the fact that it “would reduce applicable sentences by an average of 11 months, would have no negative impact on public safety and is a positive step towards controlling costs that will otherwise drain [Department of Justice] resources from other critical law enforcement activities,” their letter said.  According to the sentencing commission, adoption of the proposal would reduce the federal prison population by 6,550 within five years.

The letter echoes sentiments U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed during his testimony before the sentencing commission earlier in the month.

Last year more than 100 former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials sent letters, also organized by The Constitution Project, to Senate leaders expressing support for two sentencing reform bills: the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 619) and the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410). In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Smarter Sentencing Act with bipartisan support.

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