Scott: Oregon Militia Occupation Ironically Highlights What’s Wrong With Mandatory Minimum Sentences

January 5, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) issued the following statement on the circumstances surrounding the occupation of a federal building by a militia in eastern Oregon: 

“According to press accounts, the case of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond and the lengthy federal prison sentence they received has, in part, motivated a group to aggressively confront the federal government.  While I hope that their occupation ceases immediately and ends peacefully, their actions, ironically, highlight the injustice inflicted by mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

“In 2012, the Hammonds were convicted under federal arson laws, which carry a five-year mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration.  The trial judge, opting to ignore the mandatory sentencing provision, stated that the five-year mandatory minimum ‘would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality’ and ‘it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.’

“The federal government subsequently appealed the shorter sentences, requesting that the full five-year mandatory minimum sentences be imposed.  The appellate court agreed, remanded the case with orders to the lower court to impose the mandatory five-year sentences on both Dwight and Steven Hammond, and directed them to report to prison, which they did yesterday.

“Instead of considering the underlying facts, circumstances and characteristics of the offense and the offender, as the judge in the Hammond’s case did over a two-week trial and sentencing hearing, the law requires the judge to rubber stamp the five-year mandatory sentence without any case-specific consideration.

“Research has shown time and time again that mandatory minimum sentencing wastes money, disrupts rational sentencing systems, discriminates against minorities, and far too often requires judges to impose sentences that violate rationality, proportionality, justice and commonsense.  These sentences are, therefore, inherently problematic.

“The Hammonds join Weldon Angelos, Marissa Alexander, Mandy Martinson, Genarlo Wilson, Marcus Dixon and countless other individuals who were denied the opportunity for a judge to exercise appropriate judgment in imposing a rational sentence.  Mandatory minimum sentences must be eliminated to allow judges the opportunity to sentence offenders based on the facts and circumstances of the case, and the offender’s role and criminal record.  But the first step in ending mandatory minimum sentences is to stop Congress and state legislatures from passing new ones or expanding existing ones.”

In Congress, Congressman Scott has championed the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing.  He has sponsored or cosponsored several bills that would either severely limit the length and/or applicability of these sentences or allow judges to decline to impose them when warranted.  These bills include:  H.R. 2944, the SAFE Justice Act; H.R. 706, the Justice Safety Valve Act; H.R. 920, the Smarter Sentencing ActH.R. 1252, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act; H.R. 1255, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act;  and H.R. 1254, the Recidivism Clarification Act.  He was also the House sponsor of the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2010 and was the first meaningful reduction in a mandatory minimum sentence in a generation. 

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