The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Matthew Allee, (202) 580-6922 or

Constitution Project Committee Member Testifies Before the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Mandatory Minimums

Thomas W. Hillier, II, federal public defender in Washington State, urges Commission to endorse a reduction in the number of mandatory minimum sentencing laws


Thomas W. Hillier, II,
the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington and
member of the Constitution Project's Sentencing Committee, will testify
before the United States Sentencing Commission today that the number of
federal mandatory minimum sentences should be dramatically reduced. The
hearing is being held pursuant to a Congressional directive requiring
the Commission to report to the House Judiciary Committee on federal
mandatory minimum sentences. The Commission will hear from many relevant
perspectives on the issue, including executive branch officials,
sentencing practitioners, law enforcement officials, academics, policy
analysts, and advocacy groups.

Mr. Hillier will appear on behalf
of the Constitution Project's Sentencing Committee, which concluded
that mandatory minimums are at odds with a federal sentencing guidelines
system that is designed to allow for a proper balance between
consistency and individualization of sentences. In prepared testimony,
Mr. Hillier stated that, in his opinion, the most troubling aspect of
these sentences is the inappropriate skewing of the balance of power,
which gives a disproportionate amount of power to the prosecutor. He
observed that, in his experience, mandatory minimums create the
perception of injustice by both the public and individual defendants and
thus erode confidence in our criminal justice system, and that they are
commonly threatened to induce pleas in situation in which the penalty
would be unfair and unjustified based on the facts of the alleged crime.
As a result, he testified, the truth-seeking function of our criminal
justice system is threatened.

Mr. Hillier's submitted testimony
reads, in part:

its role as a neutral and expert sentencing authority, the [Sentencing]
Commission should encourage positive change in the [Justice]
Department's current charging policies.... The Constitution Project's
Sentencing Committee recommends that 'criminal defendants should not be
punished more severely than they deserve.' It is in keeping with that
ideal that the Constitution Project hopes the Sentencing Commission will
support legislative and policy changes that limit the use of mandatory

The Constitution Project's Sentencing Committee is a
bipartisan and politically diverse group of policy experts, including
current and former judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, scholars, and
other sentencing experts. In 2006, the Committee issued two reports
outlining principles for the design of and recommendations for the
reform of criminal sentencing systems: Principles for the Design and
Reform of Sentencing Systems: A Background Report
and Recommendations
for Federal Criminal Sentencing in a Post-
Booker World.

view Mr. Hillier's submitted testimony in full, to go:

view Principles for the Design and Reform of Sentencing Systems: A
Background Report
, go to:

To view Recommendations for Federal Criminal Sentencing in
a Post-
Booker World, go to:

The Constitution Project is a politically independent think tank established in 1997 to promote and defend constitutional safeguards. More information about the Constitution Project is available at