Jorge Marin

Sentencing Reform Gets New Life in the Senate

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 28th, 2016, 5:23 PM PERMALINK


Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee reaffirmed its commitment to proven justice reforms with its rollout of the new Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA). Changes added aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system.

Speaking on the new legislation from the Senate Judiciary committee, ATR president Grover Norquist released the following statement:

“With these new changes, and the addition of Senators Kirk, Sullivan, Cochran, and Daines the Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to conservative reform that works. The groups endorsing these reforms span the conservative spectrum from faith groups, to fiscal hawks, to law enforcement advocates. America deserves a criminal justice system that will make our communities safer, as these provisions have done in the conservative states that pioneered them.”

The proposed legislation is sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is co-sponsored by notable Republican senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system. Rather, it is a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to years of education and study, not only have conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee led on the issue, but leaders like Senator Sullivan (R-AK.), and Senator Kirk (R-Ill.) have come to champion the proposed legislation. This is a major development after the demagoguing and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.

Cornyn, one of the original sponsors of the bill, explained the conservative pedigree of the S. 2123 going back to its roots in the Texas legislature. He explains that instead of going the same, unsustainable route, “[Texas] decided to get smart on crime.” It indeed made improvements reflected in the significant reductions in crime rates that Texas has seen since the passage of their own reforms.

The Senate bill works by creating “safety valves” to existing mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentences are congressionally mandated sentence lengths that judges must not go below when sentencing offenders for certain crimes. In theory, this is meant to deter crime, but in practice, lengthy sentences often lead to higher recidivism and more dangerous communities. These safety valves would allow judges to determine the risk of recidivism as well as previous criminal history to determine whether to deviate from mandatory minimums.

This provision would only be retroactive for offenders with no serious violent felonies on their record and requires the full cooperation of the individual in question. This is a far cry from the fear-mongering that some pundits spread with regards to conservative justice reform.

In fact, both the National District Attorneys Association and Concerned Veterans for America have endorsed the proposal.

Although this is not a complete solution to America’s ossified justice system, it is a start in the right direction. Congress should listen to Senator Cornyn and “get smart on crime.”

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Buck Rogers versus Vladimir Putin

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 1:51 PM PERMALINK


Not since the sixties has space exploration been as exciting as it is now. Just last month, SpaceX, the space exploration company, completed the first successful landing of the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket. Earlier, Jeff Bezos’ outfit Blue Origin accomplished a landing of their smaller vehicle.

Private companies are talking about mining asteroids and setting up bases on Mars. Buck Rogers, here we come. For the first time, the world is weening itself off centrally-run space programs and developing the capabilities to make outer space profitable. That is, unless crony socialism continues to waste taxpayer dollars on funding neo imperialist American enemies.

Some Senators in Congress, among them Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Shelby (R-Al.) are asking Congress to lift a ban on the purchase of a certain rocket engine called the RD-180 which is manufactured by a Russian company called Energomash. This is a company so deeply rooted in the Russian crony-military industrial complex that Reuters ran an investigative piece about them titled Comrade Capitalism.

The main argument for the resumption of the RD-180 purchases is that they are needed for reasons of national defense. Besides the fact that America has launch systems more than capable of delivering our hardware into space well into the next decade, lifting the ban is a terrible mistake in terms of boosting one of our main international rivals and undermining the billions that we spend defending against Russia.

America has spent over $6 billion in aid for Ukraine according to the New York Times. This is all in order to support a nation choking under the boot of Russian-backed aggression and is clamoring for democracy.

This is in addition to the $1 billion that is lost from the Russian sanctions, and the billions that American allies in Europe are being drained from.

ATR has done its part by training Ukrainian activists to develop their own civil society in support of democracy and free markets.

It is also important to remember the $11.5 million per day that is spent trying to stabilize Syria while the Russians do all they can to kill American allies on the ground and prop up the blood-soaked regime of Bashar Assad. This is why ATR recently sent a letter to Congress opposing efforts to lift the ban.

Simply put, meeting Russia in the world stage has cost the American taxpayers a considerable amount. One has to wonder, then, why American Senators would go out of their way to prove Vladimir Lenin correct when he said that “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” except in this case, the U.S. is giving Russia $1 billion over several years for an over-priced engine. Make no mistake, this money is going directly into the hands of Putin’s cronies and his own ambitions to reconstruct the near-abroad of the defunct Soviet Union.

If you think President Putin is above such corruption, please google the Panama Papers.

If the U.S. is serious about countering Russian aggression, it should not work at cross purposes and commit to sanctioning the illiberal regime, as some political giants have in the past.

SpaceX, Blue Origin, the pioneers at the Mojave Air and Space Port, and countless other new private American companies are on the bleeding edge of space exploration. We should be finding ways of making the tax and regulatory system work for these entrepreneurs to ensure that the space age is an American age. America should not be propping up illiberal rival regimes and it should not lift the ban on the RD-180.

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According to Obama, DOJ Should Consider Intent…But Only for Hillary Clinton

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 21st, 2016, 4:18 PM PERMALINK


According to President Obama, Hillary Clinton deserves legal protections that more obviously innocent everyday Americans do not.

During a Fox News Sunday interview on April 10, the president defended Clinton’s dangerous mishandling of classified information by assuring viewers that “she would never intentionally put America in any kind of Jeopardy.” This is not much comfort for the lives that might have been put in danger through her use of an unsecure home-brew email server.

The interesting part of that quote is his use of the word “intentionally.” The reality is that he has a perfectly valid point, and in fact a person’s intentions have been an integral part of our common law understanding of crime for centuries. In legal terms, this is known as “mens rea,” or guilty mind.

Intent serves the important role of making sure a person does not go to jail over an accident. This makes it one of 2 main elements of most crimes: 1) did the accused person commit the act and 2) did they mean to do it?

Then, depending on the level of intent that legislators decided was appropriate for the crime in question, prosecutors will then need to prove the standard set in the statute: such as whether the individual knew what they were doing was a crime, of if they merely intended to do harm.

But what happens when there is no intent standard specified in the crime? Moreover, what happens when more and more criminal regulations get promulgated by an over-zealous bureaucracy that do not need to include an intent requirement?

Florida fisherman John Yates found out when he was charged with an obscure crime under a financial regulatory law that resulted in him going all the way to the Supreme Court and even losing his business. His crime? Getting rid of 3 fish he should not have caught.

It is too bad President Obama did not weigh in on his case as well. Perhaps a person needs to put U.S. security at risk by mishandling classified information first.

Since there are over 5,000 criminal laws in the books, Americans should wonder if they are expected to know all the laws to avoid breaking any of them. Fortunately, there are simple bipartisan ways to start fixing the problem. Currently, two bills in Congress are designed to address the problem. In the House, the Criminal Code Improvement Act introduced by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and co-sponsored by both John Conyers (D-MI) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) offers a simple solution: where there is no intent standard provided, a low default standard would be added for the courts to use.

This legislation is bi-partisan and has wide support from leadership—both Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made it an integral part of their criminal justice reform platform. Even the ACLU has helped to push default intent in Michigan.

Unfortunately, the administration is not eager to help. Going so far as to claim that these modest reforms would open the doors to everything from environmental devastation to the release of rapists, terrorists, and murderers (all crimes that already have intent standards and would therefore be unaffected by any of the reforms).

Obama should stop defending the nation’s whitest collar and side with actually innocent Americans.

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Americans for Tax Reform Endorses California’s Property Rights Bill

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 7th, 2016, 11:24 AM PERMALINK


Today, Americans for Tax Reform endorsed California’s Senate Bill 443. California currently protects against abuses of the asset forfeiture system, but leaves open a massive loophole which is consistently exploited.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice used by law enforcement to confiscate the property of individuals they deem guilty of a crime. In many cases, there is no warrant, conviction, or due process. The confiscating agency then keeps the proceeds and the property owner is left with little recourse. Though California has in-state protections against this abuse, local agencies can still go around these protections by teaming up with federal authorities and use their own less stringent standards while still keeping up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

SB 443 would close that loophole by, among other things, requiring an underlying conviction before local police can receive proceeds from the federal government’s fund. See the entire letter here. Below are excerpts from the endorsement:

            “Dear Senator Jackson,

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and taxpayers everywhere, I am writing to you to express my strong support of Senate Bill 443. The proposed legislation would give California some of the strongest protections in the nation against civil asset forfeiture abuses.

Currently, California police can use federal loopholes to circumvent state law in asset forfeiture cases, profiting from the very procedures state rules protect citizens against. Equitable sharing is the mechanism by which local law enforcement can use federal rules to complete a civil asset forfeiture case while profiting without going through state-imposed rules. In America, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are supposed to protect our due process and property rights, civil asset forfeiture in its current form undermines these principles. This status quo in the Golden State is unacceptable.

SB 443 would make sure that more forfeiture cases stay in California courts, requiring a conviction in a state court before local agencies can collect any proceeds from federal equitable sharing funds. This way, any time California police cooperates with federal authorities, they will also be subject to the same guidelines as would be required in a state proceeding…

… On March 28th the federal government announced a resumption of their equitable sharing program payments. A brief reprieve from the profit incentives provided by civil asset forfeiture came to an end, demonstrating the need for legislative action to fix the equitable sharing loophole…

…I implore your colleagues to extend their own support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org.

Regards,                                                                            

Grover G. Norquist, President 

Americans for Tax Reform

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Former 9/11 NYC Police Chief: “Something is definitely wrong with our criminal justice system”

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Krista Chavez on Friday, February 19th, 2016, 9:20 AM PERMALINK


Former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik sent a letter to Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) this week regarding his stance on sentencing reform. This comes in response to Sen. Cotton’s opposition to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRACA) introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Senator Cotton, who has been a staunch ally of the taxpayers, is critical of some of the sentencing changes found in the reform package. However, there is a growing consensus that the reforms in the Senate package would enhance overall safety rather than hurt it.

Kerik—who spent time in prison—took special issue with Sen. Cotton’s characterization of the intent of the bill, as the senator framed SRACA as a “criminal leniency bill.” Kerik states that  

As anyone that’s as familiar with our criminal justice system as I am, or who has worked within, or lived within a prison knows all too well, there is nothing lenient about the deprivation of freedom. Nothing.

He goes on to point out the staggering failure of a justice system that is more likely to release a reoffender than a reformed member of society

There is a reason, as you [Sen. Cotton] have stated, that more than half of those released are rearrested within a year, and 77 percent are rearrested within 5 years, but it has nothing to do with mandatory minimums. It is because we send these people to prison demanding that they act like men and women, but treat them like children and animals.

SRACA strives to reduce America’s crime rate as it restructures some drug sentences while investing in proven rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders. Rather than simply warehousing low level offenders for long periods of time, SRACA focuses resources on the people who pose the biggest threat to society and provides treatment to the folks least likely to reoffend. Similar approaches have resulted in shrinking prison populations in concert with plummeting crime rates in several red states.

The reforms would be aimed at cases like Celestia Mixon’s, who was sentenced in 2009 with a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to sell small amounts of methamphetamines. The judge who sentenced Celestia opted for the lowest possible sentence because current law did not allow him to take the positive strides in her life she had already been making into consideration. Cases like Celestia’s are not unique, and the public benefit of storing her in prison for 15 years is dubious.

While there are now many proven instances of successful reform at the state level, the actual link between the excessive mandatory minimums that Senator Cotton advocates for is tenuous. This is why leading conservative voices have already come out in support of overall reform. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson—a committed reformer—has been a vocal supporter of mandatory minimum reform. Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey is likewise supportive of Senator Grassley’s reform package.

Polling conducted by the US Justice Action Network shows overwhelming public support for reform. About 70 percent of voters in select swing states express support for a justice system that emphasizes treatment and appropriate sentence lengths. Hopefully, Congress will listen to state legislators and their own constituents on this issue.

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Despite Naysayers, Conservative Leaders Agree on Justice Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Monday, February 1st, 2016, 5:57 PM PERMALINK


In a press call with the US Justice Action Network Thursday, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist addressed the concerns some Senators have with criminal justice reform.

The US Justice Action Network brings together both conservative and progressive organizations to promote a “smarter, fairer, and cost effective” criminal justice system on all levels of government. Among the members are Americans for Tax Reform, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Freedomworks, and Right on Crime.

While a small number of politicians want to put the brakes on Senate reform packages, the bulk of the center-right movement has come out in strong support of sensible reforms. ATR president Grover Norquist stated that

“As we have learned from a decade of success, sentencing reform works. The package being considered by the Senate is meant to implement the lessons of states like Georgia and Texas, who have seen historic crime rate reductions. The senators who wish to look more closely at the provisions in the Sentencing and Corrections Act are right to be engaged on the issue, but they should also look to the red states which have pioneered these reforms. The package in question is right for the states, and it is right for the nation. We look forward to improving the bill and getting good policy passed.”

Crime rates in the United States has been dropping steadily for over two decades. As America learns more about the interplay between long sentences and lock-em-up policies, the country has found out that there are better ways to handle crime and justice.

Daniel Allott recently covered the call in the Washington Examiner. Allott noted that “For those concerned about ever-encroaching government, the federal criminal code has risen from 3,000 to 5,000 crimes in a generation,” an issue especially salient for those worried about criminal intent reform. He also made the argument by recognizing that “America's 2.3 million inmates cost taxpayers $80 billion a year,” ostensibly making justice reform a taxpayer issue.

The large American prison population has reached—and surpassed—the point of diminishing return. Research and experience have shown that to continue reducing crime, the US needs to look at cost-cutting investments and better laws. Conservative leaders and Republican legislatures have shown the way forward, the judiciary committee chairs in both chambers have taken up the calls, now it is time for the center-right to unite behind its own reforms. 

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“Obama has one more year to reach out…on Criminal Justice Reform” Says Grover Norquist

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Tuesday, January 12th, 2016, 6:14 PM PERMALINK


Ahead of President Obama’s final State of the Union Address, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist called for further action on criminal justice reform. In a comment to the Coalition for Public Safety, of which ATR is a part of, Mr. Norquist stated

“Decades of over-criminalization, over-regulation, and over-incarceration have done great harm to personal liberties and taxpayers. President Obama has one more year to reach out to Congress and act on legislation meant to roll back the encroachment of a prison system that has no signs of stopping its growth — even at the expense of public safety and hardworking taxpayers. Washington foot dragging has prevented solutions to problems like the abuse of the asset forfeiture system, and adequate intent protections for crimes, otherwise known as mens rea. Moreover, the unnecessary lengths of many drug sentences increase the risks of recidivism as they take up precious resources from law enforcement. Rather than waste billions in a broken and abusive system, it’s time to do what’s right for American taxpayers and public safety.”

Both chambers are currently debating their own proposals to deal with prison reform, sentencing, and mens rea issues. All of these have the potential to save the taxpayer millions while adding to national safety. So far, there has been bi-partisan support for all of these efforts.

Republicans in Congress and in the states have proven to be leaders in all of these areas. Stalwarts like Representative Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Ia.) have each introduced legislation in their respective chambers to reform sentencing, while Goodlatte has overseen the introduction of a sweeping mens rea reform package—which ATR has endorsed.

After seven years of a lackluster and damaging presidency, President Obama has an opportunity to work with Republicans on an issue of vital importance to public safety. Hopefully, this final State of the Union will avoid partisan attacks and create common ground to pass substantive conservative justice reform.

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Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act gets Positive Reviews in First Senate Hearing

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015, 2:29 PM PERMALINK


The Senate Judiciary Committee showed a unified front as it heard testimonies yesterday on of wide-ranging reforms to the nation’s prisons. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA)—the subject of the hearing—aims to replicate the success of several red states by re-balancing old mandatory minimum sentences and re-focusing savings on prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation to keep non-violent criminals from committing more crimes.

Among the panelists supporting the measures were Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Justice Fellowship executive director Craig DeRoche, and former US Attorney Brett Tolman.

Ms. Yates made a strong case to focus prison spending on actually reducing crime rather than warehousing non-violent criminals for longer than necessary. She made the case that “we need an approach that is more carefully tailored, so we that we can focus our resources where they are needed most.” She also heavily emphasized the importance of punishing violent criminals with stronger mandatory minimums for violent crimes and reducing the numbers of repeat offenders in SRCA as important steps forward.

Mr. Tolman, meanwhile, praised the bill for its projected benefits to public safety due to “those states which have applied a similar regime have found, this will increase public safety while saving taxpayers money.” The success found in conservative states, most notably Texas, which saved taxpayers at least $3 billion and has its lowest crime rates since 1968, are a key reason for conservative support of these reforms.

The only two witnesses critical of the proposal were Steven Cook, president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys and Heather Mac Donald, contributing fellow at the City Journal.

Mr. Cook defended the status quo by arguing that “the approach [to crime] worked. By 1991, as increasing numbers of criminals went to prison, the crime trend was reversed and crime rates actually began to drop.” However, a growing body of research is showing that this is not the case. In fact, as practical experience has shown, conservative reforms actually lower both crime rates and imprisonment faster than states with no reforms.

The federal budget currently spends $80 billion to maintain its prisons, making up 25% of the Department of Justice’s budget. This is after growing by 600% since 1980.  SRCA aims to grapple balancing public safety with effective budget usage. Instead of “arresting their way out” of the problem and creating more pressure on the prison systems, the SRCA makes smarter sentencing a reality and provides a way for federal resources to actually enhance public safety.

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Judiciary Committee Reaches Agreement on Prison Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, October 1st, 2015, 1:32 PM PERMALINK


Flanked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced sweeping new legislation to reform the nation’s criminal justice system. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would address America’s unsustainable prison population and the harm caused by an ineffective correctional system—though the changes in question come short of a final fix, they are an important step towards a justice system that saves taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe.

The proposed legislation is the result of months of negotiation between the members of the judiciary committee. Many of the provisions, such as recidivism reduction and rehabilitation, have been successfully applied in conservative states like Texas and Georgia. Congressional lawmakers should be applauded for their efforts to replicate proven success at the federal level.

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“This is State government, sir”: Michigan gets one step closer to Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Danil Zelenkov on Thursday, August 20th, 2015, 2:00 PM PERMALINK


Yesterday, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated bold legislative initiative by unexpectedly voting a slew of civil asset forfeiture reform bills out of committee.

The committee heard testimonies from national advocacy organizations on both sides of the aisle as well as law enforcement. Although there was some token opposition from state law enforcement, seven of the eight bills passed the committee unanimously.

At the hearing, US Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris explained the convoluted history of asset forfeiture in America,

Centuries ago, civil asset forfeiture was actually used as a means to seize assets from pirates.  In the 1980s, asset forfeiture was expanded to seize assets from international drug kingpins.  But now, law enforcement is using civil asset forfeiture to seize cars and cash from average citizens who are never even charged with crimes.  And here in Michigan, far too many innocent property owners have found themselves entangled in a flawed process…We are a long way from pirates and kingpins.

Jorge Marin, Criminal Justice Specialist at Americans for Tax Reform, also congratulated the Michigan Association of Police Organizations for their endorsement of the proposals,

Fortunately, this is a uniting issue. The Michigan Association of Police Organizations understands full well that bad laws reflect poorly on the vast majority of police officers; men and women who genuinely want to protect their communities and have done so with distinction.  The Package of laws under consideration would strengthen the reporting requirements for forfeitures. This would be a massive step in the right direction.

He further explained the importance of protecting the due process of law and how civil asset forfeiture laws infringe upon that,

You may be wondering what taxes have to do with civil asset forfeiture. Simply put, tax reform is simply a means to an end: the end being the protection and expansion of individual freedom. For this reason we have flagged asset forfeiture as an egregious threat to due process and legislative accountability of the nation’s crucial police force and their budgets.

Yesterday ATR released an official endorsement of Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture legislation.

After being asked about what the federal government was doing with respects to asset forfeiture by an ill-fated prosecutor, Committee Chairman Rick Jones shot back “this is state government, sir,” demonstrating how the states are leading on this issue despite what the federal government is doing.

Americans for Tax Reform is supportive of the Senate Judiciary Committee decision to move forward with this legislation. We urge state legislators across the country to take Michigan's lead.

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