WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today introduced the bipartisan Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020, a targeted bill that would eliminate the blanket presumption of pretrial detention for most federal drug charges. Pretrial detention rates in the federal system are at record high levels and on an upward trend across all demographic groups. This legislation would permit federal courts to make individualized determinations regarding whether pretrial detention is appropriate for each defendant charged with a nonviolent drug offense. Any defendant found to be a flight risk or a threat to public safety would be detained.
“In our system of presumed innocence, a court should determine that pretrial detention is necessary based on individual circumstances, not blanket presumptions.” Senator Coons said. “This narrow, commonsense bill would protect public safety while helping to address a pretrial detention rate that is wasting resources, increasing racial disparities, and leading to longer sentences. I thank Sens. Durbin and Lee for their leadership on this critical issue.”
“The First Step Act was a critical move in the right direction to reform our criminal justice system, but there is much more work to be done. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and far too many people are being detained pending trial without consideration of their individual circumstances. The Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act will help reduce federal pretrial detention, which is at record high levels,” Senator Durbin said. “I will fight to get this targeted, bipartisan legislation through the Senate with my colleagues, Senator Lee and Senator Coons.”
“The Fifth Amendments protects the life, liberty, and property of all Americans from government interference without due process of law. This legislation seeks to better protect the right of all Americans against unjust imprisonment by changing the presumption for pretrial detention,” said Senator Lee. “This change to a presumption against pretrial detention will allow judges more discretion to consider each defendant’s individual and unique circumstances when deciding whether pretrial detention is appropriate and necessary.”
The following organizations support the Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act: #cut50, a program of Dream Corps; ACLU; American Conservative Union; Americans for Prosperity; Americans for Tax Reform; Black Public Defender Association; Drug Policy Alliance; Due Process Institute; Fair Trials; FAMM; Federal Public and Community Defenders; FreedomWorks; Innocence Project; Justice Roundtable; Justice Action Network; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Legal Aid and Defender Association; Prison Fellowship; R Street Institute; Right on Crime; The Sentencing Project; and Tzedek Association.
The Bail Reform Act of 1984 governs federal release and pretrial detention proceedings, and under its provisions, release is generally presumed unless a judge finds risk of flight or potential danger to the community, which is the appropriate standard for defendants with the presumption of innocence. However, this release presumption is reversed for certain criminal charges, creating a presumption of detention without regard to the circumstances and background of the accused. One of these “presumption” charges is any drug offense that is punishable by 10 years or more (the vast majority of federal drug offenses). This presumption treats nonviolent drug offenses like terrorism, hijacking, and other serious violent offenses, and has been found to result in the unnecessary detention of low-risk offenders. This unnecessary detention is harmful to the individuals charged, wastes resources, exacerbates racial disparities, and leads to longer sentences. This bill will reduce unnecessary detention while still ensuring that courts have the ability to detain those that should be detained for public safety reasons, based on appropriate individualized consideration.
The bill text is available here