Criminal Justice Policy
- Federal sentencing reform legislation has been considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month and two bills on federal sentencing reform were passed out of Committee — S. 1410, The Smarter Sentencing Act by Senator Durbin (D-IL) and S. 1675, The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI). Largely due to budget shortfalls within the Department of Justice and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, these bills take different approaches to lower America’s Federal prison population largely for cost savings, with the Smarter Sentencing Act reducing mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes on the front end during sentencing while the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act would direct the Bureau of Prisons to offer evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to prisoners who qualify and would reduce the sentences of such prisoners upon their successful completion of such programs.
NDAA Executive Director Scott Burns testified in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on mandatory minimum sentencing in September 2013 as the lone minority witness before the Committee. While NDAA has not formally endorsed or opposed either of these bills, NDAA testified during the hearing that reducing mandatory minimum sentences and/or giving federal Judges’ discretion on applying mandatory minimum sentences solely as a cost-saving measure was a dangerous precedent and could have grave consequences, including a potential spike in crime rates. There is no timetable for any companion bill in the House and a floor vote is not expected anytime soon on either bill.
- Broad forensic science legislation has been re-introduced by both Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) and Senator Leahy (D-VT) in recent weeks. The two bills — S. 2177, the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act introduced by Senator Leahy and S. 2022, the Forensic Science and Standards Act introduced by Senator Rockefeller — take vastly different approaches for the creation of an “Office of Forensic Science” oversight body for forensic sciences. Senator Leahy’s approach based in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG) and Senator Rockefeller’s effort based in the U.S. Department of Commerce in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). As has been the case for many years and as outlined in NDAA’s Board-approved Forensic Science Policy, NDAA opposes any effort to house any oversight entity for forensic sciences anywhere but within the U.S. Department of Justice. Look for hearings on both bills in the coming months.
- Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) legislation continues to stall in both the House and Senate as competing interests such as federal sentencing reform, over-federalization of criminal law and forensic science reform have been keeping Congress busy in recent months. While the Senate has no plans to work on any ECPA-related legislation in the coming months, the House has met with law enforcement stakeholders (including NDAA) on a broad-based bi-partisan bill and may take up the issue by holding hearings before the August Recess.
- NDAA continues to be relied upon heavily to provide witnesses for two recent criminal justice-related hearings in Washington, DC:
- A hearing before the U.S. Sentencing Commission on proposed amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines reducing sentences for certain drug crimes was held in mid-March and NDAA Board Member and Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh from Fairfax County, VA testified on behalf of NDAA opposing the proposed amendments;
- A hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations on “Over-Federalization” was held in late March and NDAA Past President Joe Cassilly, State’s Attorney from Harford County, MD testified on behalf of NDAA giving the Subcommittee a State prosecutor’s perspective on Federal & State cooperation on cases where there is overlap with Federal and State law.
- In recent weeks, NDAA has drafted potential legislation which would relocate the National Prosecutor’s Memorial from its former site at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, SC to federal grounds in Washington, DC. Meetings on the legislation have taken place with members of the House and Senate and NDAA has met with members of the National Capital Planning Commission to develop a “roadmap” to bring this effort to fruition. While we are just beginning this effort, feedback has been positive and we are hopeful to gain ground on this effort in the coming months.