At long last Congress has completed its Crime Bill odyssey, producing an expensive, draconian, poorly thought out mess that will do little or nothing to reduce crime. The result is not as bad as expected, however, and there are a few bright spots. Crime Bill spending totals $30.2 billion over 6 years; this money will be spent on four general categories:
We summarize here the major provisions of the bill that are relevant to the drug laws:
While the Crime Bill's prison funds are targeted at violent offenders, they are likely to provide a disincentive to states to lighten drug sentences by easing the prison crowding caused by the drug laws.
Note that individuals can be convicted solely on the testimony of a government informant. The testimony of informants is unreliable because of the incentive they have to obtain convictions: Informants are either paid a reward by the government, or have been arrested themselves on drug charges and are usually required to testify to convict others to reduce their own sentences. Hence, informants have a strong incentive to lie in order to obtain convictions.
Note also that because the death penalty can be applied to "continuing criminal enterprises", an individual whom an informant says, for example, grew 3,000 marijuana plants every year for 20 years is eligible to receive the death penalty.
Many were disappointed when retroactivity was stripped from the safety valve as part of a last minute bargain to save the Crime Bill from defeat in Congress. An effect of the non-retroactive safety valve is that prisoners serving terms as short as two years will live side by side with people serving five to ten years for the same offenses. Sentencing reform activists will be working on retroactivity during the next session of Congress.
Another sentencing reform which made it into the Crime Bill is a provision which would allow certain drug offenders a one year reduction in sentence following completion of a 6 to 12 month drug treatment program.
The commission will be composed of 28 members appointed as follows (assuming that the commission will not be convened before January 1995 and the House and Senate remain in democratic control): 10 persons by the President, not more than 6 of whom shall be of the same major political party. (President Bill Clinton appoints 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans.); 5 by whoever replaces Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) in conjunction with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Delaware); 4 by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) in conjunction with the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); 5 by Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D-Washington) in conjunction with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Texas); 4 by the new House Minority Leader, who will probably be Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), and the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee, probably Carlos Moorhead (R-California).
At least 1 member appointed by the President, at least 2 members appointed by the Senate, and at least 2 members appointed by the House must be persons well-qualified to participate in the commission's examination of the subject area of the causes of the demand for drugs, with education, training, expertise, or experience in such areas as addiction, biomedicine, sociology, psychology, law, and ethnography and urban poverty (including health care, housing, education, and employment).
The commission is to give its report not later than two years from the date of its inception, and has been allocated $1.0 million for fiscal year 1996.
The Crime Bill actually contains some modest reforms of forfeiture law, including an annual audit of every State and local law enforcement agency that receives forfeiture funds, and a requirement that the government pay state and local property taxes that have accrued from the date of the forfeiture order.
The full text of the Crime Bill can be found on pages H8772 - H8867 of the Congressional Record dated Sunday, August 21, 1994.
Thanks to NORML, ACLU, FEAR, FAMM and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation for compiling this information.
From The Activist Guide, Issue #3, September '94, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.
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