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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

STRENGTHENING CHILDREN'S SAFETY ACT OF 2017

May 22, 2017
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 1842.

   While I support the underlying goal of punishing sex offenders, the existing sentencing laws already provide serious punishment for this conduct. Unfortunately, this legislation expands nonmandatory minimums to additional offenders.

   This expansion of mandatory of minimums comes at the heels of Attorney General Sessions' memo, which has been roundly criticized for rescinding the Holder memo and directing all Federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges and the maximum sentence, to include mandatory minimum sentences.

   The Sessions memo takes away, from Federal prosecutors, the ability to individually assess the

   unique circumstances of their cases and any factors which would mitigate against seeking the harshest sentence in every case. Once that offense triggers a mandatory minimum and once that is charged, the sentencing judge loses any discretion to assess the unique circumstances of the case and, upon conviction, must impose the mandatory minimum provided in the code.

   This legislation is remarkable in that it extends a number of exceptionally high mandatory minimums to most defendants. The mandatory sentence of life without parole is expanded to apply to more cases. The mandatory sentence of 35 years is expanded. In other cases, the mandatory minimum would triple from 5 years to 15 years.

   These are grave sentences, and the judge should have discretion in determining when they should be imposed. And these sentences would apply not only to the ring leader, but to everyone who may be involved in the activity and subject to a conspiracy conviction. The mandatory minimum eliminates the ability of the judge to consider the individual circumstances of the case or the culpability or the role of the defendant in that case.

   For decades now, extensive research has been done on mandatory minimums, and the conclusions are: they do not reduce crime; they do not protect anybody; they waste the taxpayers' money; they discriminate against minorities; and they often require judges to impose sentences so bizarre that they violate common sense.

   When you see how these are worked in drug cases, you can be reminded of President Obama's policy to consider full commutation. Those who are, essentially, first offenders who have been convicted of nonviolent, low-level activity in a drug case would be considered for commutation after 10 years.

   Now, that seems reasonable, but what you ought to ask is the question: How did a low-level, nonviolent first offender get so much time that, after 10 years, they still need help from the President? The answer is: mandatory minimums. The judge had no choice but to impose that bizarre sentence.

   Unfortunately, there are already too many mandatory minimums in the Federal code. If we ever expect to do anything about the problem and address that 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.

   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, seemed like a good idea. Therefore, the first step we have to take in reducing mandatory minimums is to stop passing new ones or to stop passing bills that expand mandatory minimums.

   For these reasons, while I support the underlying goals of H.R. 1842, to punish sex offenses against children, I oppose expanding the application of severe mandatory minimum sentences such as the 15 and 35 and life imprisonment.

   Mr. Speaker, this bill would not be controversial without the mandatory minimums; but, unfortunately, they are in the bill, and I, therefore, urge my colleagues to oppose the legislation.