Will Statutory Mandatory Minimum Sentences Be Changed?
On July 24, 2009, United States Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (D- Va.) and United States Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 3327, also known as the “Ramos-Compean Justice Act of 2009.” H.R. 3327 would allow courts to sentence a federal criminal defendant below a mandatory minimum when, after looking at all the relevant facts and circumstances of the case and considering the purposes of punishment, imposing a mandatory minimum sentence would violate congressional command in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) that the sentence be no greater than necessary to comply with the purposes of punishment. H.R. 3327 would retain mandatory minimums in the criminal code, and Congress would retain the ability to set mandatory minimums. At the same time, it would empower courts to use their discretion and impose a sentence below a mandatory minimum in cases where the mandatory minimum sentence would be greater than necessary to achieve the goals of punishment.
This is an extraordinarily important bill for all federal criminal defendants. As the law now stands, a District Court judge is not allowed to sentence a federal criminal defendant below a statutory mandatory minimum penalty unless the government files a motion pursuant to Section 5K1.1 of the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. Such mandatory minimum penalties affect drug cases, gun cases and child pornography cases to name but a few. For example, a federal criminal defendant charged with distributing 5 or more kilograms or more of cocaine is subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum penalty. A criminal defendant who uses a firearm in the commission of a drug crime or violent crime is subject to at least a five-year mandatory minimum penalty (a penalty that must be run consecutive to any other imposed sentence and a penalty that increases to 25 years for two or more convictions). Therefore, one can understand the significance of this bill. While it is still early in the legislative process, it is our firm’s hope that our legislative bodies and our president understand that the law as it is now affords too much discretion and power to the prosecutor and not enough to the judiciary.