SentenceSpeak has written before about Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and his heroic fight to make sure more individuals are not caught up in the broad net of drug mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In fact, Senator Paul singlehandedly stopped legislation to add new "synthetic drugs" to the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) because the CSA includes one of the harshest mandatory minimums in federal law: an automatic 20 years
in prison for providing a controlled substance to someone who suffers serious
bodily injury or death, even if the
defendant did not intend to cause harm to anyone! The idea that someone
must be punished so harshly despite any evidence that they intended to cause
harm is antithetical to a free society.
But the supporters of the synthetic drug bills were not pleased with Senator Paul. They accused him of being indifferent to the families of individuals harmed by abuse of synthetic drugs. Some even said he had blood on his hands.
It would have been very easy for Senator Paul to cave. That's what most politicians do when the going gets tough, especially on an emotionally charged issue involving crime and public safety. But Senator Paul stood his ground, secure in the knowledge that he was fighting for an important principle: that courts, not Congress, should impose appropriate sentences after reviewing all the facts of a case. So Senator Paul continued to block the synthetic drug bills from moving through the Senate by unanimous agreement unless the sponsors were willing to add language that would have made clear that the CSA's 20-year mandatory minimum would not apply to offenses involving the newly scheduled synthetic drugs.
Last week, supporters of the synthetic drug bills saw a way to circumvent Senator Paul's principled opposition. Rather than try to move their proposal through the Senate as freestanding bills, they would simply attach them as an amendment to an unrelated bill that the Senate was preparing to pass. That bill, which was designed to reform the Food and Drug Administration, had broad bipartisan support and was sure to pass. And because a majority of the Senate supported the synthetic drug bills, it would have been easy to win the vote attaching those bills as an amendment to the FDA reform bill.
Undeterred, Senator Paul approached the amendment sponsor, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and told him he could not support his amendment unless Portman agreed to add language to limit the reach of the CSA's 20-year mandatory minimum. At the same time, the Senate's Republican and Democratic leaders were trying to reach an agreement to limit the number of amendments that Senators could offer to the FDA bill because they wanted to finish voting on the bill before Memorial Day. Senator Portman's amendment, therefore, was going to need the unanimous consent of all of his colleagues. That meant that Senator Paul still had the leverage he needed to secure a modification of Portman's amendment.
After some negotiations with Senator Portman and other supporters of the synthetic drug bill, Senator Paul was able to add a new section to Portman's amendment, which read:
SEC. 1144. PROHIBITION ON IMPOSING MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES.
Section 401(b)(1)(C) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C)) is amended by adding at the end the following: ‘‘Any mandatory minimum term of imprisonment required to be imposed under this subparagraph shall not apply with respect to any controlled substance added to schedule I by the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012.
With this modification, the Portman amendment was attached to the FDA bill and the FDA bill was approved by the full Senate. Senator Paul had prevailed.
We know it’s not easy to stand up against those who want to lock everyone up and throw away the key. But because Senator Paul was willing to do so this week, he spared taxpayers from the burden of warehousing more low-level, nonviolent offenders for decades in prison. More importantly, he saved individuals and families from needless pain and misery.
On behalf of the thousands of families in Kentucky and across the country that have been devastated by mandatory minimum sentences, we extend our sincere appreciation to Senator Paul for his commitment to sentencing fairness. Well done, Senator, well done!