First Step Act Promised To Reform Criminal Justice & Release Those Doing Unfair Time for Drug Crimes
News reports have been dominated by news headlines of the First Step Act, which, if passed by the Senate by the end of December, would make a number of changes to the criminal justice system, including eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for a number of drug crimes, providing funding for rehabilitation programs, and instituting a number of other important changes.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill would retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which would shorten the thousands of sentences currently being served by those convicted of crack cocaine offenses prior to 2010.
What Does It Do?
The bill, as passed by the House, does a number of things, including but not limited to clarifying that:
- Only offenders who have been previously convicted and served a sentence for using a firearm during a crime of violence or drug crime can face an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence (i.e. not first-time offenders);
- More judicial discretion will be permitted with regard to mandatory minimum penalties;
- The three-strike penalty is reduced from life imprisonment to 25 years (and thus the 20-year minimum is reduced to 15 years) and can only apply to offenders convicted of a serious drug crime or violent felony;
- Judges can apply the “safety valve” (i.e. exceptions to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders with no criminal history) if a defendant has fully cooperated with law enforcement and has not used or threatened to use firearms or violence, or caused death or serious bodily injury;
- The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 will be retroactively applied, allowing those sentenced before the law went into effect for crack cocaine offense to petition the court for a review of their case. Sentences imposed prior to 2010 would also be brought in line with those imposed after 2010 due to the law;
- There are new mandatory minimum sentences for domestic violence offenders and statutory maximums for Fentanyl;
- There will be programs implemented to reduce recidivism and allowing prisoners to earn time credits, as well as meaningful employment and training opportunities and parole for juvenile offenders; and
- The “compassionate elderly release provision” would be extended from the Second Chance Act;
- The use of restraints on pregnant inmates is generally prohibited unless they are a threat to themselves or others, or they pose an immediate and credible flight risk; amongst other reforms.
Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys with Questions
If you are facing a serious federal charge, such as a drug crime, in New York or New Jersey, contact our experienced drug crimes defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today to schedule a free consultation and find out how we can help.