Chairman Grassley Quotes FLEOA in Floor Speech


Chairman Grassley Quotes FLEOA in Floor Speech in Opposition to the Smarter Sentencing Act - March 10th, 2015


Prepared Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Floor Remarks: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

March 10, 2015

Mr. President, on a number of occasions I have had to take to the Senate floor to note my opposition to the so-called Smarter Sentencing Act. It has been necessary because there are so many misconceptions about that legislation and federal drug sentences and prisoners.

Before addressing them, I want to let my colleagues know that I do believe that there are some inequities in the criminal justice system. The Judiciary Committee will be looking at ways to address them. I will set out that part of the Committee’s agenda after discussing sentencing.

The Smarter Sentencing Act would arbitrarily cut in half the mandatory minimum sentences that are imposed on a host of serious drug offenses. They include importation, manufacture, and distribution of serious drugs like heroin, PCP, LSD, and meth.

The governor of Vermont devoted an entire State of the State address to the heroin epidemic. The governor of Maryland just launched an anti-heroin initiative following the near doubling of heroin overdose deaths in that state between 2011 and 2013. But the Smarter Sentencing Act would cut in half mandatory sentences for importing, distributing, and manufacturing heroin.

It would cut the sentences for the same activities with respect to LSD, a drug that causes psychosis and suicide. It would reduce sentences for the drug trade that two of President Obama’s appointees in the DEA and in the Justice Department have warned that the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations are engaged in to fund their operations. It would harm the ability of prosecutors to obtain cooperation from lower level offenders to obtain intelligence regarding terrorists’ planned attacks.

As President Obama’s own United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York has warned, "[T]here is a growing nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism, a threat that increasingly poses a clear and present danger to our national security.” The threat should determine the response. It would be foolhardy to meet the threat of narcoterrorism by cutting drug sentences.

Under federal sentencing law, those who are low level offenders avoid mandatory minimum offenses. Just under half of all drug courier offenders were subject to mandatory minimum sentences, but fewer than 10% received mandatory minimum sentences. One reason for the difference is that offenders who cooperate in prosecuting high level drug conspirators avoid the mandatory minimum sentences.

As the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association wrote, "[A]ny change in the mandatory minimum sentencing standard does a disservice to the brave men and women who are asked to put their lives on the line to protect us from terrorists and criminals.

"Currently, the system in place allows federal law enforcement agents to infiltrate and dismantle large-scale drug trafficking organizations and to take violent armed career criminals off of the street. In turn, this allows progression up the scale of criminal organizations from low-level subject to higher ranking members through the effect of the mandatory minimum sentencing act.”

A second reason why mandatory minimum sentences are not imposed on many eligible drug couriers is the "safety valve.” Defendants can qualify if they have no or a very light criminal history. That means that those who are convicted but aren’t violent do not serve mandatory minimum sentences. The average sentence for a federal drug courier offender is only 39 months. The offenders who qualify for the safety valve are drug couriers and drug dealers. They are not people who are in prison for possession of drugs. That is because drug possession does not trigger federal mandatory minimum sentences. And it is because, according to the Sentencing Commission, almost no citizen is in federal prison for mere drug possession.