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Public Statements

Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act of 2005

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SECURE ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND COURT PROTECTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - November 09, 2005)

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to H.R. 1751. With several sensational incidents in recent years involving the murders of judges, family members of judges, court personnel, witnesses and other victims, we have seen the consequences of insufficient security for our court operations and personnel associated with the courts.

All are agreed that enhancement of security for our courts and all persons associated with them is imperative. However, the main focus of this bill is not the things that the courts have asked for to enhance their security, but on extraneous death penalties and mandatory minimum sentences which will do nothing to improve the security of our courts or personnel associated with them.

Mr. Chairman, I want to acknowledge and thank Chairman Sensenbrenner for making significant improvements in this bill since our initial consideration of the bill in subcommittee, by removing a number of the superfluous mandatory minimum sentences and death penalties from the bill. However, all such provisions were not removed.

The notion that Congress has to direct judges on how to sentence those who harm or threaten judges and their families and others associated with court activities, or that Congress has to replace the States in prosecution of murders of State judges and other State officials is absurd. The kinds of people we are talking about clearly have not been deterred by death penalties and mandatory minimum sentences already on the books and applicable to them for those kinds of crimes, so they certainly will not be deterred by adding more such mandatory minimums. And judges facing such defendants clearly do not need congressional guidance on what the appropriate sentences may be.

Accordingly, I have prepared an amendment which would remove the provisions allowing the Federal Government, simply on the basis of someone's salary being paid in part by Federal funds, to take over traditional State prosecutions of State murder cases. I have also prepared an amendment which would remove the mandatory minimum sentencing in Federal cases involving judges, their family members or other court personnel, and replaced them with higher maximums that would allow even greater sentences than the bill allows in cases which warrant it, but would not require sentences which violate common sense.

The courts have not requested mandatory minimums or death penalties because they do nothing to protect the court. Nevertheless, here we go again with more mandatory minimums and more death penalties. In fact, Mr. Chairman, the Federal courts have consistently and loudly expressed their strong opposition to mandatory minimum sentences.

Through rigorous study and analysis, as well as through their everyday experiences in sentencing major players and bit players in crime, the courts have determined mandatory minimums to be less effective than regular sentencing. They have found them to be racially discriminatory in their application. They have found mandatory minimums to waste money compared to traditional sentences, and they have found mandatory minimums to be a violation of common sense.

The Judicial Conference has written us often to express their opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing and has just written us again with this bill to state their opposition to mandatory minimum sentences as a violation of the systemic sentencing scheme designed to ``reduce unwarranted disparity and to provide proportionality and fairness in punishment.'' That idea is violated with mandatory minimums.

The Judicial Conference and everyone concerned supports the grant programs in the bill aimed at strengthening court security and personnel and providing security for persons associated with the courts. Absent mandatory minimums and the extension of the death penalties, this bill would be one that we could all support.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, because of the mandatory minimums and death penalty it is not one we can all support.

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AMENDMENT NO. 2 OFFERED BY MR. SCOTT OF VIRGINIA

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment eliminates the mandatory minimum sentences in the bill and replaces them with increases in maximum sentences for which a defendant can be sentenced. This is not a soft-on-crime amendment but a sensible-on-crime amendment. In each instance in which it eliminates a mandatory minimum sentence, it raises the maximum term to which an offender can be sentenced, except in situations where they can already get life.

With the higher maximums, offenders who deserve it can be sentenced to even greater sentences than the bill allows. But those who are bit players in an offense or those who do not deserve as much time as ringleaders, do not have to be sentenced to that time anyway. What sense does it make to sentence an offender to more time than anyone believes they deserve? That is an inevitable result of mandatory minimum sentencing.

The notion that we have to have mandatory minimum sentences to force judges to sentence those who kill, injure or threaten judges or their families or others associated with the courts is obviously absurd. Judges have not asked for mandatory minimum sentences as a protection for themselves and their families. Indeed, they have asked for just the opposite.

Having the experience of sentencing people on an ongoing basis, judges see the differences in activities, roles, backgrounds of the offenders of crime. They know it makes no sense to sentence just on the basis of the name of the crime rather than on the basis of the facts and circumstances of the crime and the level of involvement and background of the offenders. Having heard all the facts and circumstances in the case, they are in a much better position to sentence offenders than Congress is in sentencing offenders with no knowledge of the individual case.

To ensure a systemic approach in sentencing like offenders in a similar manner, we have created the Sentencing Commission and the sentencing guideline system. By increasing the maximums, we signal to the Sentencing Commission to consider increasing the guideline minimums, which they characteristically do when we make such suggestions. The sentencing statistics do not establish that the courts have not followed the guidelines, especially when you take into account that most of the deviations result from government motions, or acquiescences in sentences, and guideline-sanctioned departures. Sentencing is not an exact science and should not be held to rigid statistical measurements.

Some have suggested that mandatory minimum sentencing is necessary because of recent Supreme Court decisions that prevent sentencing increases based on factors not established at the trial. Yet, their positions on mandatory minimum sentences appear to be no different before those cases were decided.

Mandatory minimums have been studied and have been found to disrupt an orderly sentencing scheme, to be discriminatory against minorities, to waste the taxpayers' money when compared to traditional sentencing where individual roles and culpability can be taken into account. If we do not trust judges to sentence offenders sufficient in other cases, the one instance where we should be able to trust judges is in the case where the charge is murder, injury, or threats to judges.

Certainly, Mr. Chairman, mandatory minimums are not indicated in this bill, so I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and remove the mandatory minimums from the bill.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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AMENDMENT NO. 3 OFFERED BY MR. SCOTT OF VIRGINIA

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment would eliminate the expansion of the Federal death penalty jurisdiction on the basis of any portion of the salary of a State or local official being covered with Federal funds. That means they could be eligible for a Federal death penalty. The notion that the Federal Government has to replace the States and localities in murder prosecutions against those who would murder a State judge or others associated with a judge or courts is absurd.

States have shown themselves quite capable of prosecuting murder cases and in obtaining death penalties where applicable. They have done far more of it, frankly, than the Federal Government, so there is no indication that this raw extension of Federal power is necessary or even desired. If a State has chosen to represent the will of its citizens by not authorizing a death penalty, why should Congress step in and impose it in spite of the State's public policy choice?

The States certainly have not asked that we add a Federal death penalty to apply to the murder of federally funded State or local officials. And there is no evidence that the kind of people who would kill or plot to kill a State court judge or other officials may be deterred by a Federal death penalty.

The public is clearly rethinking the appropriateness of the death penalty, in general, due to the evidence that it is ineffective in deterring crime, that it is racially discriminatory, and found more often than not to be erroneously applied.

A 23-year comprehensive study of the death penalty found that the death penalty had been erroneously applied 68 percent of the time. So it is not surprising that over 120 people sentenced to death over the last 10 years have been released from death row, having been completely exonerated of the crimes for which they are convicted or otherwise found to be not guilty.

Nor is it surprising that with such a sorry record of death penalty administration, that several States have abolished the death penalty or placed moratoriums on the applications of their death penalty while studies are being conducted, and why some, while they have it on the books, have not applied it in many years.

In recognition of the problems States and localities were having with administering the death penalty, Congress adopted the Innocence Protection Act just a few years ago. It provides funding to State and local entities to help ensure that there is competent counsel at all parts of the trial.

Mr. Chairman, during committee deliberations of the death penalty, we heard references to econometric research of economist Joanna M. Shepherd. I want to point out, more recently, she has done further analysis in elaboration of her research and found, in terms of deterring murders, executions deter murders in six States, have no effect on murders in eight States, and increased murders in 13 States.

Mr. Chairman, despite the fact that the death penalty is arbitrarily applied, it is discriminatory and we make mistakes, I would hope that we would delete the death penalty from this bill by adopting the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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AMENDMENT NO. 8 OFFERED BY MR. KING OF IOWA

Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to claim the time in opposition, although I am not opposed.

The CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Virginia?

There was no objection.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I wonder if the gentleman from Iowa would respond to a couple of questions. I would ask the gentleman whether or not this applies to Federal officials only; we are not imposing this on State officials.

Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. I yield to the gentleman from Iowa.

Mr. KING of Iowa. Yes, Mr. Chairman, it applies only to Federal officials who will represent the United States of America in a court of law, the voice of the Federal Government in a court of law.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, also, did the Federal officials ask for this new power?

I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Chairman, on that specific question, I cannot answer ``yes'' to or ``no'' to. I am working with a piece of language I believe in, and I have not looked a Federal official in the eye that specifically asked me.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, it is my understanding that this was in fact their request, in fact, their number one request. Does the gentleman have any evidence or know anything contrary to that?

Mr. KING of Iowa. I have been informed that, yes, we have Federal officials that have asked for this legislation. I would point out that it is not mandatory that they accept carrying a firearm; it is their option that they exercise under the regulation provided by the Attorney General.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Reclaiming my time, I would finally ask, is this the right to carry, subject to training and regulation prescribed by the Attorney General? I yield to the gentleman.

Mr. KING of Iowa. It is subject to training and regulation as prescribed by the Attorney General.

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