ACLU Urges Congress to Defer to Sentencing Commission Expertise on Drug Offenses

May 14, 2002 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with a coalition of advocacy groups in urging a congressional subcommittee to defer to the expertise of the United States Sentencing Commission and defeat a bill that would supercede a Commission guideline that the groups say would inject a greater measure of fairness into drug sentencing.

“It is unfortunate that certain members of Congress are trying to turn a reasonable sentencing reform into a political issue. The Sentencing Commission was formed to maintain fairness and rationality in the penalties handed down by our criminal justice system – the representatives pushing this bill need to let the Commission do its job,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

At issue is a piece of legislation (HR 4698) that would void a U.S. Sentencing Commission guideline designed to allow the courts greater discretion to consider mitigating circumstances when handing down penalties for drug offenses. The ACLU and other groups consider the guideline necessary in light of recent cases where low-level drug offenders — who find themselves caught up in an offense involving a large quantity of drugs but in which they play a very minor role — have received sentences light-years beyond what common sense would suggest they deserve.

The legislation is set for consideration at a hearing this afternoon in the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).

In the coalition’s letter to the subcommittee on the legislation, the groups were quick to point out that conservative Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama have introduced legislation similar to the Sentencing Commission’s guidelines in the Senate. Hatch and Sessions have publicly supported a reduction in the relevance of drug quantity for sentencing.

The coalition letter on the bill can be found at:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Smart Justice

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Smart Justice

Smart Justice issue image

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racism in the criminal legal system.