In past decades our criminal justice system was undermined by sentences that were too lenient. Too many violent felons were returning to the streets to do harm too soon. But now, decades later, some mandatory minimum sentences are too harsh. And people are learning that a criminal justice system can be just as undermined by sentences that are too harsh.
This is the premise behind the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that I have co-sponsored in the Senate.
Our bill expands federal judges’ now-limited discretion, so they can imposes punishments – neither too lenient nor too harsh – that fit both the crime and the criminal.
It broadens the federal “safety valve” – a provision that allows judges to sentence a limited number of offenders below the mandatory minimum.
It improves the quality of our federal prisons – by increasing access to vocational training, therapeutic counseling, and reentry services – so that we have fewer first-time offenders turning into career criminals.
Finally, the bill requires the Government Accountability Office to produce a report detailing how many federal crimes are on the books. Right now, no one knows. That is a threat to every Americans liberty, and this bill is a good first step to rolling those criminal laws back.
The authors of our Bill of Rights included the Fourth Amendment because they knew that one of the best protections against tyranny is to limit the government’s power to search its citizens.
Specifically, the Framers wanted to ensure that the federal government could not issue broad general warrants that would empower the executive branch to indiscriminately rummage through the private lives of American citizens—in other words, to spy on them. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the National Security Agency began doing after 9/11.
To roll back this invitation for abuse, Sen. Lee introduced and helps pass the USA Freedom Act, which both banned the bulk collection of domestic telephone and email records while still maintaining the government’s ability to collect necessary intelligence in a more targeted and traditional manner.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no person shall 'be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.' And while everyone can agree that crime should not pay, a decades old change in who gets to keep proceeds from asset forfeitures has created a profit incentive that has led to government abuse at the expense of innocent Americans.
Before 1985 proceeds form asset forfeitures went to the general fund where Congress had control over how that money was spent. But after 1985 the Justice Department was given direct control over asset forfeiture proceeds. Since that switch proceeds from asset forfeitures have increased ten-fold.
That is why Sen. Lee has cosponsored the FAIR Act with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), which eliminates the profit incentive for law enforcement officers and adopts procedures—such as notice and hearing rights, the right to an attorney, and higher burden of proof—that will better protect the rights of innocent property owners.