Stop the Feeney Amendment

   


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Stop the Feeney Amendment

Save federal judicial discretion! Stop the Feeney amendment to S. 151


The House of Representatives passed legislation on March 27 that would, among other things, radically limit judicial discretion to grant downward departures from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. This legislation, referred to as the Feeney Amendment, constitutes an extraordinary transfer of power to federal prosecutors, dramatic changes to the laws and procedures that govern sentencing and a drastic
encroachment on the independence of the federal judiciary. It places virtually all sentencing discretion in the hands of federal prosecutors. The amendment was attached to child abduction legislation at the last minute in an effort to avoid a debate of its merits and a discussion of its flaws. No input from the Sentencing Commission, the bar or federal judges was sought.

Many FedCURE Board Members immediately sent a letter in opposition to the full House of Representatives before the vote. And we have been working diligently to stop this measure ever since -- but we need you help. Because the measure is attached to popular child-abduction legislation that will bypass the committee process, time is of the essence. This bill could be enacted into law in the next few days.
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ACTION NEEDED


ALL MEMBERS


First and foremost, you should call or fax a letter (a sample is below) to Senator Orrin Hatch (UT), chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, stating your strong opposition to this legislation.


MEMBERS WITH OTHER GOP SENATORS ON SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE


If your senator is a GOP Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (see list below), they also have the ability to influence the outcome and should be contacted, in addition to Senator Hatch.


Orrin G. Hatch (UT) (202) 224-5251
fax: (202) 224-6331
Charles E. Grassley (IA) (202) 224-3744
fax: (202) 224-6020
Arlen Specter (PA) (202) 224-4254
fax: (202) 224-1229
John Kyl (AZ) (202)224-4521
fax: (202) 224-2201
Mike DeWine (OH) (202)224-2315
fax:(202)224-6519
Jeff Sessions (AL) (202) 224-4124
fax: (202) 224-3149
Lindsey Graham (SC) (202) 224-5972
fax: (202) 224-1189
Larry Craig (ID) (202) 224-2752
fax: (202) 228-1067
Saxby Chambliss (GA) (202) 224-3521
fax: (202) 224-0103
John Cornyn (TX) (202) 224-2934
fax: (202) 228-2856


After calling and/or faxing a letter stating your opposition to the amendment, send an email to your senator using the Criminal Justice Forum’s action center.
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SUMMARY OF THE FEENEY AMENDMENT:
Offered by Rep. Feeney (R-FL) with the full support of Chairman Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the legislation will dramatically restrict the ability of federal judges to depart from the federal Sentencing Guidelines.


Today, if a judge feels that a guideline sentence is unjust or unwarranted, sometimes he or she may "depart" on one or more grounds to achieve a sentence that he or she feels is just. Departures are permitted when judges find that the guidelines do not adequately account for certain circumstances that must be considered in reaching a just sentence. Departures help judges fit the punishment to the crime.

Departure authority, while used rarely, is essential to ensure that the Guidelines allow judges discretion, something that mandatory sentencing does not permit. FedCURE has always stood for judicial discretion.


If the amendment passes into law much will change:
1. Judges sentencing first time, non-violent offenders will be utterly forbidden from considering youth, military service, community involvement, charitable deeds, or family responsibility.


2. Judges will be unable to depart from the guidelines for "aberrant conduct" or for a combination of factors, none of which by itself would warrant a departure.


3. Judges will be forbidden from awarding a one-point sentence reduction for "extraordinary acceptance of responsibility" unless the government attorney specifically authorizes the reduction.


4. Judges will be forbidden from awarding any downward departures unless they are explicitly authorized in the federal Sentencing Guidelines.


5. The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which amends the Sentencing Guidelines, is forbidden to authorize any new grounds for departure in those guidelines until 2005.


REASONS FOR OPPOSING THE FEENEY AMENDMENT:
- Judicial discretion is necessary because no set of rules can predict the circumstances of every individual defendant.
- The Feeney Amendment, in effect, transforms the guidelines into a system of mandatory minimum sentences.
- Throughout the Guidelines' 15-year existence, most criticism from judges, academics and observers has been aimed at their excessive severity and rigidity.
- The Feeney Amendment would overrule a decision of the Supreme Court, Koon v. United States, that was written by Justice Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices O'Connor, Scalia and Thomas.
- Downward departure rates are well below the range contemplated by Congress when it authorized the Sentencing Guidelines, except for departures requested by the government.
- The overwhelming majority of downward departures (79%) are requested by federal prosecutors to reward cooperation or to manage the high volume of immigration cases in certain border districts.
- The government can appeal downward departures it doesn't consider appropriate, and it wins approximately 80% of such appeals.
- The bill imposes burdensome reporting requirements on the judiciary without any new funding.
- The Feeney Amendment would result in increased incarceration at taxpayer expense without any proven need.
- Such a dramatic rewriting of federal sentencing law requires hearings and input from judges, the bar,
the Sentencing Commission and other experts.
- The amendment is designed to increase penalties imposed on persons sentenced in federal cases by limiting federal judges from exercising long-standing judicial discretion to mitigate the punishment even for first-time, nonviolent offenders who have otherwise exhibited exemplary conduct, including military service and charitable works.
- The changes wrought by this amendment will be very costly in terms of additional legal challenges, increased prison terms for even nonviolent first offenders where compassion exercised by Article III judges would be appropriate, and the untold costs to families and society as a result of the increased incarceration.
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PLEASE ACT NOW TO SAVE JUDICIAL DISCRETION! CONTACT THE SENATORS ABOVE AND URGE THEM TO REMOVE THE FEENEY AMENDMENT.


SAMPLE LETTER:
You are strongly encouraged to personalize this letter by adding items from the talking points above. Remember to fax, not mail, your letter! Calls should also be made using the letter or talking points as a guide.


The Honorable[ ]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator [ ]:
I strongly urge you to take action to prevent the Feeney amendment to S.151 from becoming law. This amendment to S. 151 will strip federal judges of all discretion to treat defendants as individuals. The law will remove much of the little discretion in sentencing that judges retain and increases the harsh effect of already severe sentencing policies. The amendment is designed to increase penalties imposed on persons sentenced in federal cases by limiting federal judges from exercising long-standing judicial discretion to mitigate the punishment even for first-time, nonviolent offenders who have otherwise exhibited exemplary conduct, including military service and charitable works.

The amendment was attached to child abduction legislation at the last minute in an effort to avoid a debate of its merits and a discussion of its flaws. Such a dramatic rewriting of federal sentencing law requires hearings and input from judges, the bar, the Sentencing Commission and other experts.

Please contact Senator Hatch and urge him to remove the Feeney amendment from unrelated childabduction legislation (S. 151), which will be the subject of imminent House-Senate conference negotiations.


Thank you for your attention to this very serious matter.
Sincerely,
(Your name, address, and telephone number)