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April 01, 2012

ABA cites concerns about new mandatory minimums

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III acknowledged Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for his stand against enactment of new federal mandatory minimum sentences and urged other senators to oppose bills that would impose such sentences and federalize crimes that could be handled easily by states.

Paul is opposing mandatory minimum provisions in the following legislation: S. 409, the Combating Dangerous Synthetic Stimulants Act; S. 605, the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act; and S. 839, the Combating Designer Drugs Act. All three bills are awaiting  Senate votes following approval in July by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The ABA has been concerned for some time about the federalization of crime,” Robinson wrote in a March 13 letter to Paul. He noted that the federal courts have become forums for new classes of cases, many of which would otherwise be tried only in state court, and convictions place additional burdens on the federal prison system.

Congress has enacted new federal criminal laws at an unprecedented rate, both in sheer numbers of subjects addressed and in the scope of new legislated federal jurisdiction. This has resulted in a massive growth in the size of the overall federal criminal justice system and increased costs for the executive and judicial branches.

The ABA opposes the pending Senate bills because they would expand Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to cover additional synthetic substances.

Schedule I drugs or substances are those with a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use in the United States. Under the act, an individual convicted of an offense involving any quantity of a Schedule I controlled substance is subject to up to 20 years in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years is required in cases where death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of the substance.

“This approach not only inappropriately applies a one-size-fits-all approach, it eliminates the ability of judges to exercise discretion to impose an appropriate sentence taking into account individual circumstances,” Robinson said.

He concluded that “while states are enacting significant sentencing and corrections reforms to reduce unnecessary and excessive incarceration of low-level offenders,   Congress is considering proceeding with the business-as-usual ‘big-government’ approach to federal criminal justice that is characterized by ever swelling rolls of federal crimes with expanded federal jurisdiction and additional mandatory minimum sentences.”

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