Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance two bipartisan criminal justice reform bills authored by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee —the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 and the First Step Implementation Act of 2021. These bills will build on the landmark First Step Actand continue Congress’s bipartisan efforts to make our criminal justice system fairer.
“The Judiciary Committee today took an important step to build upon our criminal justice reform progress from 2018 and to ensure that the law is fully and safely implemented. Today’s bills prevent offenders from being sentenced for conduct for which they have been acquitted and respects the rights of victims to testify at trials. They’re the product of much deliberation, and I applaud the committee’s actions to advance them to the full Senate. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to improve fairness in the criminal justice system, fight violent crime and provide victims a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” Grassley said.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee has a responsibility to address inequities in our criminal justice system and these two bills contribute to that effort. I look forward to building on the reforms of the landmark First Step Act by working across the aisle to enact these bills into law,” Durbin said.
The bipartisan, bicameral Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 would end the unjust practice of judges increasing sentences based on conduct for which a defendant has been acquitted by a jury. Our criminal justice system rests on the Fifth and Sixth Amendment guarantees of due process and the right to a jury trial for the criminally accused. These principles require the government to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Under the Constitution, defendants may be convicted only for conduct proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, at sentencing, courts may enhance sentences if they find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a defendant committed other crimes. The difference in those standards of proof means that a sentencing court can effectively nullify a jury’s verdict by considering acquitted conduct. The legislation was passed out of Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-6. More information on the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 can be found here.
The bipartisan, bicameral First Step Implementation Act would advance the goals of the landmark First Step Act (FSA), by, among other provisions, making eligible for retroactive review some of the FSA’s sentencing reforms. The FSA – authored by Durbin and Grassley and signed into law in 2018 – is bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation designed to make our justice system fairer and our communities safer by reforming sentencing laws and providing opportunities for those who are incarcerated to prepare to reenter society successfully. The First Step Implementation Act was passed out of Committee by a bipartisan vote of 13-9. More information on how the First Step Implementation Act of 2021 would further the goals of the FSA can be found here.
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the bipartisan COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021, authored by Durbin and Grassley.