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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

PROTECTING AGAINST CHILD EXPLOITATION ACT OF 2017

May 25, 2017
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 1761.

   I first want to point out that the case outlined by the chair of the Judiciary Committee that failed in Federal court could have been brought in State court and the defendant would have been subjected to extremely long, lengthy prison time for the heinous conduct that he had participated in.

   Mr. Speaker, this legislation expands the use of preexisting mandatory minimum sentences. Although the bill does not technically create new mandatory minimums, it does expose additional defendants to preexisting mandatory minimum sentences of 15, 25, and 35 years.

   While I support the underlying goal of punishing sex offenders--and they should be punished harshly--the use of mandatory minimums has time and time again been shown to be inappropriate.

   This expansion of mandatory minimum sentences comes on the heels of the Attorney General's memorandum of May 12, 2017, which has been roundly criticized for directing all Federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges and maximum sentences, to include mandatory minimum sentences. This directive takes away from Federal prosecutors and judges the ability to individually assess the unique circumstances of each case, including any factors that may mitigate against imposing mandatory minimum sentences.

   This law is particularly appalling because it would apply to people who I think we should all agree should not be subject to these long mandatory minimum sentences. I am talking about teenagers. Teenage sexting is widespread. Under this law, teenagers who engage in consensual conduct and send photos of a sexual nature to their friends or even to each other may be prosecuted and the judge must sentence them to at least 15 years in prison.

   The law explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy. That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt. If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.

   Under the Federal code, the term ``sexually explicit conduct'' includes actual or simulated conduct. That means if a teenager asks another teenager for a photo simulating sex, even if the minor is fully clothed, that attempt would violate the law and the teenager must get a sentence of at least 15 years mandatory minimum for making that attempt.

   This law does not allow the judge to consider whether or not the conduct may have been consensual between minors. This circumstance is irrelevant when the sentence is mandatory.

   For decades now, the extensive research and evidence has demonstrated that mandatory minimum sentences fail to reduce crime, discriminate against minorities, waste the taxpayers' money, and often require a judge to impose sentences so bizarre that they violate common sense.

   Unfortunately, there are already too many mandatory minimums in the Federal code. If we ever expect to do anything about the problem and actually address this major driver of mass incarceration, the first step we have to take is to stop passing new mandatory minimums or bills that expand existing mandatory minimums.

   Mr. Speaker, we have to recognize that mandatory minimums in the code did not get there all at once. They got there one at a time, each part of a larger bill, which, on balance, might seem like a good idea. Therefore, the only way to stop passing new mandatory minimums is to stop passing bills that contain or broaden the application of mandatory minimums.

   Giving lip service to the suggestion that you would have preferred that the mandatory minimum had not been in the bill and then voting for the bill anyway not only creates that new mandatory minimum, but it also guarantees that mandatory minimums will be included in the next crime bill.

   Mr. Speaker, this bill would not be controversial if it did not contain mandatory minimums, but, unfortunately, it does. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on H.R. 1761.