Are the Stars Aligning for Sentencing Reform? – Update for July 24, 2016

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SR160509Last week may have been the Republican Convention in Cleveland, but some Republicans were baking in the Iowa sun instead, talking about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), held a news conference last Wednesday in Des Moines International Airport with Sen. Tim Scott, (R-South Carolina), to talk up the SRCA, which Grassley introduced almost a year ago.

Scott said he is optimistic the SRCA can pass, given the bipartisan support it is receiving from outside groups such as the conservative Koch brothers and the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s one of those unusual times when the stars align,” Scott said.

Scott and Grassley noted the House is looking at a wider array of criminal justice bills, but they expect both side to narrow in on legislation that can be passed this year.

One hopeful sign is that, according to, the 2016 GOP platform is trying to swap support for the Senate version of SRCA with House bill, which includes mens rea rules that Democrats complain would restrict the prosecution of white-collar executives for violating federal business laws and rules.

The proposed exchange is outline in a section of the platform which calls for reductions in penalties for criminals that mostly hurt blue-collar communities and minority communities, such as gangs and drug traffickers who are convicted for apparently non-violent crimes.

The platforms offer of reduced jail sentences for blue-collar criminals — drug-runners, murderers, muggers — is tied to a rollback of criminal prosecutions rules. Democrats are reluctant to trade the mens rea, guilty mind rollback for the opportunity to release criminals back onto the streets.

actus160222Yet unless Democrats agree to the mens rea requirements, crucial swing-vote Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in May that he won’t back the SCRA. “The current criminal justice bill is inadequate … [unless it deals with] the problem of over-criminalization,” he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) said two weeks ago that he intends to push the SRCA and other criminal justice bills slashing sentences for federal prisoners amid rising murder rates in U.S. cities, cops being targeted for execution by black radicals, and a heroin epidemic fueled by Mexican drug cartels and their illegal alien traffickers.

The SCRA companion bill has stalled in the Senate after several prominent Republicans, including Sens. Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, and David Vitter — along with law enforcement groups — slammed the bill, saying it would sign “death warrants” for more crime victims.

Ohio State law professor Doug Berman said in his sentencing law post last month that the SRCA was essentially dead in Congress, but last week he said, “I am certain Senator Grassley knows a lot more than I do about whether it may still have some legislative life left in it. I sure hope so.”


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