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June 29, 2004 - Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

New Federal Bill Pushes For New And Tougher Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Action Needed To Stop Bill From Advancing

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Dear Friends of FAMM,

Last year many of you took action to stop the PROTECT Act, which sought to dramatically limit the discretion of federal judges to depart from the federal sentencing guidelines. Because of your letters and calls to Congress, you were part of the heroic work that saved judicial discretion to depart downward (lower sentences). The Feeney Amendment passed but was much less damaging than it might have been.

Now, we face a new threat to federal sentencing justice. A proponent of the Feeney Amendment, Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), has introduced H.R. 4547, called "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2004." This bill pretends to protect children and people seeking treatment for drug addiction, but is chock-full of approaches that only serve to harm the families it is intended to protect.

Like the Feeney Amendment, H.R. 4547 increases sentences and decreases the power of judges and the U.S. Sentencing Commission by creating new mandatory sentences and increasing existing ones. But it goes even further, gutting the federal "safety-valve" for the lowest-level drug offenders and punishing defendants for the "relevant conduct" of co-conspirators that occurred BEFORE the defendant joined up.

As written, H.R. 4547 would:

  • Make the sale of any quantity of any controlled substance (including anything greater than five grams of marijuana) by a person older than 21 to a person younger than 18 subject to a ten-year federal mandatory minimum sentence.
  • Mandate life in prison for persons 21 years or older convicted a second time of distributing drugs to a person under 18 or convicted a first time after a felony drug offense has become final.
  • Increases to five years the federal mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of a controlled substance, of any type or quantity, within 1,000 feet of a school, col lege, public library, drug treatment facility (or any place where drug treatment, including classes, are held), or private or public daycare facilities -- in short, almost anywhere in cities across the U.S.
  • Strip the federal "safety valve," granting it only when the government certifies that the defendant pled guilty to the most serious readily provable offense (the one that carries the longest sentence), and has "done everything possible to assist substantially in the investigation and prosecution of another person," and would prohibit the federal "safety-valve" in cases where drugs were distributed or possessed near a person under 18, where the defendant delayed his or her efforts to provide substantial assistance to the government, or provided false, misleading or incomplete information.
  • Eliminate the mitigating role cap under the federal sentencing guidelines for minimal or minor drug offenders and prohibit the sentencing commission from reinstating the cap.
  • Strengthen the use of relevant conduct to enhance a person's sentence by making the person accountable for the conduct of other members of the conspiracy that occurred before the person joined the conspiracy but was known by the person before joining.

Click here for the full analysis of H.R. 4547. (Note: File is in Adobe PDF format.)

For these reasons, FAMM opposes H.R. 4547. We are strategizing with our allies in the legal and legislative communities on a plan to defeat this bill. But even at this early stage, we need FAMM members to ACT NOW to stop this harmful bill. Although Congress will be recessing in a few weeks, Rep. Sensenbrenner is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and therefore controls its agenda. It is possible that H.R. 4547 could be considered by the House Judiciary Committee before recess, so it is imperative that you call, write and if possible, meet with your federal representatives as soon as possible.


  • Take a minute now to e-mail your federal representative in opposition to H.R. 4547. This link takes you to FAMM's online action center, which contains suggested letters on this bill.
  • Call your federal representative and tell the person who answers the telephone that you OPPOSE H.R. 4547. To find the name, telephone number and address of your federal representative, go to and enter your zipcode.
  • Write a letter to your federal representative, using the suggested letter on FAMM's website, opposing H.R. 4547. Please send a copy of any responses you receive to FAMM.
  • Face-to-face meetings with your federal representative and senators can be extremely influential. If you have a chance to attend a town hall meeting, a constituent get-together, or a political rally this summer where you can meet your federal lawmakers, PLEASE GO. Urge your representative to oppose mandatory sentencing laws and H.R. 4547.

H.R. 4547 is bad news, but FAMM is hopeful that we can stop it. Thank you in advance for contacting your federal lawmakers in opposition to H.R. 4547.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Price and Julie Stewart


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