House amendment would strip mandatory minimum sentencing reforms from Senate bill

criminal-justice-system-reform
The original bill would give judges more sentencing discretion in drug offense cases.

A proposed amendment would strip all mandatory minimum sentencing reform from a Senate bill (SB 346) sponsored by budget chief Rob Bradley if approved.

A strike-all amendment by Rep. Bobby DuBose would replace the bill with new language on DNA testing, wrongful incarceration, compensation for being wrongfully convicted, expungement of criminal records and juvenile justice.  

The House is expected to vote on the amendment Tuesday.

The amendment would allow a defendant who claims they have been wrongfully convicted to petition the court to get DNA testing and forensic testing done to prove their innocence by possibly identifying the real perpetrator of the crime. It allows the testing to be done by a private lab. The amendment would also direct $9.9 million to pay wrongful incarceration claims for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. It also spells out the conditions under which a person can get their criminal records expunged. It also makes some changes to county juvenile detention cost-sharing.

Bradley was hoping to get some sweeping criminal justice reforms passed before he left the Legislature this year, so this could hit his legacy if the amendment is successful and his priorities get left out of the ultimate bill. He’s fought for several criminal justice reforms passed by the Senate in recent years — only to see them repelled by the House.

Bradley killed a massive criminal justice bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes last week by not hearing it in Senate Appropriations. 

That bill would have softened penalties for people who had their driver’s license suspended or revoked; set up a program to allow eligible elderly inmates to be released early; and allowed “young adult offenders” — those between 18 and 25 sentenced to lengthy prison terms — to receive a sentence review after they’ve served at least 15 years of their sentence.

DuBose, meanwhile, won’t go as far as saying sentencing reform would be dead under his amendment.

“I think (the Senate) has a certain posture with what they’re trying to accomplish this session and then we have this bill here we’re trying to get some bills through,” he said. 

DuBose adds that his strike-all, even if approved, would probably not be the final product.

“I think we’re trying to get to a place where we have some common ground,” he said. “It so happens that wrongful compensation happens to be a vehicle where stuff is getting on and off the bus.” 

Bradley said he has not seen DuBose’s amendment. 

Bradley’s bill, without the amendment, would loosen sentencing laws for specific drug offenses and give judges more discretion. 

Judges would be allowed to dole out punishments less than the mandatory minimum sentences spelled out in state law for many drug crimes if defendants meet certain criteria — such as having no prior violent felony convictions, not being connected to organized crime, and not having caused any serious injuries or death. It is a top priority for Bradley. 

If the House passes DuBose’s strike-all, it would have to go back to the Senate. The Senate could then add the sentencing reform language back to the bill. 

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]



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