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 also establishes minimum sentences for arms trafficking to terrorists, sex crimes, and interstate domestic violence. To encourage better awareness of federal law, the bill directs federal agencies to publicly publish indexes of federal crimes.
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.” It 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.
Senators Durbin [D-IL] and Lee [R-UT] 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 “changes could save taxpayers billions in the first years of enactment.” Maplight.org lists over 40 organizations that support the bill including the American Bar Association, ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, International Union of Police Associations, NAACP, and SSDP.
A similar bill exists in the House that was sponsored by Congressmen Labrador [R-ID1] and Scott [D-VA3]. The bill contains the same sentencing changes for drug based offenses and transparency initiatives, but does not contain the sex crime or arms trafficking sections that were added to the Senate version after it cleared committee.
To reduce sentences for drug offenses, the act amends 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.
After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee, sections amending federal sentencing guidelines for sex crimes, domestic violence, and arms trafficking were added to the bill.
The Smarter Sentencing Act imposes 5 year federal minimum sentences for aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, or committing murder during the sexual exploitation or trafficking of a child. It also creates a 10 year minimum for committing murder during interstate domestic violence. The bill extends the maximum sentence for disfigurement or life-threatening bodily injury during interstate domestic violence from 20 to 25 years and the maximum for serious bodily injury or use of a dangerous weapon during interstate domestic violence from 10 to 15 years.
The bill creates a 5 year federal minimum sentence for providing defense articles and services to terrorists, state sponsors of terror, persons or entities connected to weapons of mass destruction programs, or persons or entities sanctioned by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.
3/11/2014--Reported to Senate amended.
Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 - (Sec. 2) Amends the federal criminal code to direct the court to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the defendant: (1) does not have more than two criminal history points; (2) has no prior convictions for any offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another; and (3) has not been convicted of a specified firearm offense, sex offense, federal crime of terrorism, or racketeering offense or of conspiring to use and invest illicit drug profits.
(Sec. 3) Authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government, or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed, provided such sentence was not previously imposed or reduced under such Act or such a motion wasn't previously denied.
(Sec. 4) Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (CSIEA) to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing, or exporting specified controlled substances.
(Sec. 5) Directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend its guidelines and policy statements applicable to persons convicted of such an offense under the CSA and CSIEA to ensure consistency with this Act and to consider specified factors, including: (1) its mandate to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity; (2) fiscal implications of changes; (3) relevant public safety concerns; (4) the intent of Congress that severe sentences for violent, repeat, and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain in place; and (5) the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing. Requires the Commission to: (1) promulgate such guidelines, policy statements, or amendments by no later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and (2) make such conforming amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines as necessary to achieve consistency with other guideline provisions and applicable law.
(Sec. 6) Requires the Attorney General to report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on how the reduced expenditures on federal corrections and cost savings resulting from this Act will be used to help reduce overcrowding in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, increase investment in law enforcement and crime prevention, and reduce recidivism.
(Sec. 7) Directs the Attorney General to submit a report listing all criminal statutory offenses and including for each offense: (1) a list of the elements of the offense, (2) the potential criminal penalty for the offense, (3) the number of prosecutions for the offense brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in each of the 15 years preceding this Act's enactment, and (4) the mens rea requirement for the offense.
Requires the head of each of specified federal agencies to submit a report listing all criminal regulatory offenses enforceable by such agency and including for each offense: (1) the potential criminal penalty, (2) the number of violations referred to DOJ for prosecution in each of the 15 years preceding this Act's enactment, and (3) the mens rea requirement.
Requires the Attorney General and each agency head to establish a publicly accessible index of each such offense and make the index available and freely accessible on DOJ's and the agency's websites.
(Sec. 8) Amends the federal criminal code to establish a five-year minimum term of imprisonment for aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a minor or ward, and sexual abuse-related offenses resulting in death.
(Sec. 9) Provides for enhanced penalties for interstate domestic violence if a victim dies, if the victim is permanently disfigured or suffers a life threatening bodily injury, if serious bodily injury to the victim results, or if the offender uses a dangerous weapon during the offense.
(Sec. 10) Amends the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act to establish a five-year minimum term of imprisonment for certain unlawful acts involving: (1) the provision of defense articles or defense services to a state sponsor of terrorism, a foreign terrorist organization, or person on the list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury for an activity relating to support for international terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; or (2) the exportation of goods or services to any person in connection with a program of a foreign country or foreign person to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Amends the Arms Export Control Act to establish a five-year minimum term of imprisonment for a criminal violation of such Act that involves the export of defense articles or defense services to: (1) a state sponsor of terrorism, (2) a foreign terrorist organization, (3) a person on the Office of Foreign Assets Control list, or (4) any person in connection with a program of a foreign country or foreign person to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Amends a federal criminal code prohibition against the smuggling of goods from the United States to establish a five-year minimum term of imprisonment if the merchandise, article, or object smuggled: (1) is a defense article and was exported or sent to a state sponsor of terrorism, a foreign terrorist organization, or person on the Office of Foreign Assets Control list; or (2) was exported or sent to any person in connection with a program of a foreign country or foreign person to develop weapons of mass destruction.