Pubdate: Thu, 11 Feb 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Sari Horwitz


Despite Recent Setbacks, Utah Republican Says Legislation Has Traction

The co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation to reduce some mandatory 
minimum drug and gun sentences said Wednesday that he is hopeful 
Congress can still pass the bill despite recent setbacks.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said issues have arisen that have slowed the 
legislation - considered by advocates of sentencing reform to be the 
most significant in decades. But "I don't believe it's stalled," he 
said at "Out of Jail, Into Society," a Washington Post Live event 
about prison reform.

Lee said: "It's getting momentum. . . . True, it can't pass without 
Republicans. Are there detractors? Sure. But those who are with us 
outnumber those who are against us."

In October, a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans, including 
Lee, introduced the criminal-justice reform legislation, which Senate 
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called a 
"historic bill" that was the "product of thoughtful bipartisan deliberation."

But the legislation has hit several snags. A number of senators in 
recent days have raised concerns that the bill, if passed, could free 
violent criminals. One major political obstacle is the existence of 
House legislation that would require prosecutors to prove a 
defendant's criminal intent to win convictions for certain federal crimes.

President Obama and several congressional Democrats said this rule is 
an attempt to make it more difficult for the federal government to 
prosecute corporations - and they have warned that passing it could 
derail other criminal-justice legislation.

To illustrate the need for changes in drug sentencing, Lee 
highlighted the case of a Utah constituent of his, Weldon Angelos, 
36, a father of three who was sentenced to 55 years in a federal 
prison after being arrested for selling marijuana three times to a 
police informant.

When Lee was a federal prosecutor in Salt Lake City in 2004, one of 
Lee's colleagues prosecuted Angelos. But Lee has now called on Obama 
to grant him clemency. On Tuesday, the former federal judge who 
sentenced him, Paul G. Cassell, also asked the president to grant clemency.

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Obama, said that the initiative to 
grant clemency to nonviolent drug offenders is "a top priority for 
the president." She said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and "the 
entire team" at the Justice Department are committed to sorting 
through clemency petitions from thousands of inmates and figuring out 
which ones meet the criteria set by department officials.

"We don't have the resources to review every single one that we have 
in," said Jarrett, who was on the Post panel with Lee. "But it's 
something that is important. The president has taken great pains in 
giving positive enforcement to those whom he has granted clemency, 
writing them letters and the letters back that he has received have 
been very, very touching."

Jarrett said: "But the real key here is, let's not put all our eggs 
in granting clemency. Let's make sure these people are not 
incarcerated in the first place. Let's make sure we are really being 
sensible. And when we have judges around the country saying that 
their hands are tied, and that they are anguishing over the fact that 
they can't treat the facts of each circumstance as they deem 
appropriate, tells us that we have to do something."

"Let's keep people out of the system in the first place," Jarrett said.

Other panelists Wednesday included Bernard B. Kerik, former New York 
City police and correction commissioner, who founded the American 
Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform; Pennsylvania Corrections 
Secretary John E. Wetzel; Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of 
Just Leadership USA; and Teresa Hodge, co-founder of Mission: Launch.
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