The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 adjusts federal mandatory sentencing guidelines for a variety of crimes in an effort to reduce the size of the current U.S. prison population and costs associated with it. It reduces the mandatory sentences for drug offenses and expands the ability of non-violent offenders to reduce their sentences under the federal “safety valve.” The bill enables federal prisoners to seek retroactive sentence adjustment under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
The bill affirms that these steps are in line with the U.S. Sentencing Commission mandate to “minimize the likelihood that the Federal prison population will exceed the capacity of the Federal prisons.” The bill also directs the Justice Department to issue a report outlining the reduced expenditures and cost savings as a result of the Smarter Sentencing Act within six months of its passing.
Congressmen Labrador [R-ID1] and Scott [D-VA3] introduced the bipartisan bill as a cost-cutting measure, citing the ballooning federal prison population, nearly half of which is incarcerated for drug offenses. They argue that the bill “will improve justice, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and actually improve safety by enabling the justice system to focus on the most violent offenders.”
A similar bill exists in the Senate that was sponsored by Senators Durbin [D-IL] and Lee [R-UT]. The bill contains the same sentencing changes for drug based offenses and transparency initiatives, but has additional sections that amend sentencing guidelines for sex crime and arms trafficking that were added to the Senate version after it cleared committee.
To reduce sentences for drug offenses, the act reduces the current minimum sentences for drug related crimes. 20 year minimum sentences are reduced to 10 years, 10 year minimums to 5, and 5 year minimums to 2. The reductions apply to offenses covered under the Controlled Substances Act and Controlled Substance Import and Export Act involving marijuana, cocaine, heroin, PCP, LSD, methamphetamines, or a counterfeit of these substances.
To reduce the current federal prison population, the act widens the applicability of the federal “safety valve” which affords judges discretion in assigning sentences to non-violent offenders with a limited criminal history to receive sentences below the federally established minimums. Currently only those with 0 or 1 criminal history points can receive this opportunity. The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand it to individuals with up to 2 points. It would also alow the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which eliminated the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence for first-time possession of crack cocaine, to be applied retroactively to currently incarcerated individuals who have not previously had their sentences decreased.
To increase transparency, the bill requires all federal agencies to publish public indexes of federal statutory and regulatory offenses that fall under their jurisdiction within two years of the bill’s passing.