This week saw the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate to remove an unnecessary presumption that people accused of many nonviolent drug offenses be detained pre-trial.

Removing this line gives judges more discretion, and means those accused of nonviolent offenses who pose little-to-no-risk to public safety or flight risk can be released, while others will still be jailed. There is also potential to save taxpayer dollars.

The “Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020” removes a statutory presumption that judges must use to hold persons accused of nonviolent drug offenses in detention while awaiting their trial.

When a person is arrested and accused of a crime, it is the job of the judge to determine whether or not they should be detained or be released while waiting the date of their trial.

The current bail statute lists a series of factors that the judge must take into consideration when making this decision, such as whether or not they are a flight risk, or pose a danger to a person or the community.

The bail law however also lists offenses that require the judge to presume the defendant ought to be detained while awaiting trial. Among the crimes in this list are many nonviolent drug offenses.

Of all persons accused of non-immigration federal crimes, 42% of those are related to nonviolent drug offenses. This prejudice in favor detaining defendants before trial is hard to overcome. 60% of persons accused of nonviolent drug offenses end up being detained while awaiting their trial. Worse yet, being held in pre-trial detention greatly increases the chances of receiving a longer sentence if convicted for the crime they are accused.

The Bill introduced by Senators Lee and Durbin is a simple and effective solution that deserves broad support.