GOP bill would create mandatory minimums for crimes against police

GOP bill would create mandatory minimums for crimes against police
© Greg Nash

Republicans are reigniting efforts to crack down on people who hurt police officers with new mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAdministration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal Dem leaders request bipartisan meeting on Russia probe House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeFive races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas Hillicon Valley: House Dems release Russia-linked Facebook ads | Bill would block feds from mandating encryption 'back doors' | AT&T hired Cohen for advice on Time Warner merger | FCC hands down record robocall fine | White House launches AI panel MORE (R-Texas) on Tuesday reintroduced the Back the Blue Act to create new federal crimes for killing, attempting to kill or conspiring to kill a judge, federal law enforcement officer or federally funded public safety officer.  

Under the law, killing a judge or law enforcement officer would be punishable by death or a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison, while attempting to or conspiring to kill a judge or law enforcement officer would carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years.

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The legislation also creates new mandatory minimums for assaulting a law enforcement officer based on the extent of the injury and the use of a dangerous weapon.

Fleeing from justice to avoid prosecution for committing one of these crimes, meanwhile, would carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years.

The legislation, introduced during National Police Week, comes in the midst of an uproar over Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWyden presses FBI for information on inflated encryption figures ‘Whatever’ isn’t an option for immigrant children Comey blasts Trump's FBI claims: 'How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?' MORE’s order last week directing federal prosecutors to be tough on crime.

In a stark turnaround from Obama-era guidance, Sessions told prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious crimes possible that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”

In response, Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices GOP Senate primary heats up in Montana MORE (R-Ky.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing MORE (D-Vt.) introduced legislation late Tuesday to give federal judges more discretion when handing down prison sentences.

The Justice Safety Valve Act gives federal judges the ability to impose sentences below the mandatory minimums when appropriate. 

Advocates for criminal justice claim the Back the Blue Act along with Sessions's order will once again fill federal prisons.

“Add this to the Sessions’ memo and they might as well just dissolve state legislatures and let Congress make all criminal justice policy,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“No one condones violence, especially against our brave first responders, but why should punching a retired cop be a federal crime that requires a mandatory federal prison term? I think states can protect their officers. In fact, many states have already passed laws to address this issue.”

In a statement Tuesday, Leahy spokesman David Carle said the Vermont Senator has been pushing measures to better protect police with bullet proof vests, strengthen programs that provide death and educational benefits to survivors of fallen law enforcement and authorize funding for an Anti-Heroin Task Force. 

“As far as mandatory minimum sentences are concerned, Leahy, especially as a former prosecutor, is one of many who by now have concluded that they are ineffective,” he said.