Lee Remains Optimistic about Criminal Justice Reform

In an interview with the Washington Post, Sen. Mike Lee says he’s hopeful that Congress will pass his criminal justice reform legislation despite the efforts of its detractors within his own party. 

Reports Sari Horwitz:

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that although issues have arisen that have slowed the legislation— considered by sentencing reform advocates to be the most significant in decades—he is hopeful that Congress will pass a bill.


“I don’t believe it’s stalled,” Lee said at “Out of Jail, Into Society,” a Washington Post Live event about prison reform. “It’s getting momentum…True it can’t pass without Republicans. Are there detractors? Sure. But those who are with us outnumber those who are against us.”


In October, a group of Senate Democrats and Republicans, including Lee, introduced the criminal justice reform legislation, which Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) called a “historic bill” that was the “product of thoughtful bipartisan deliberation.”


But the legislation has hit several snags. A number of senators in recent days have raised concerns that the bill, if passed, could free violent criminals. One major political obstacle now is the existence of House legislation that would require prosecutors prove a defendant’s criminal intent in order to win convictions for certain federal crimes. President Obama and several congressional Democrats say this rule is an attempt to make it more difficult for the federal government to prosecute corporations–and they’ve warned that passing it could derail other criminal justice legislation.


To illustrate the need for changes in drug sentencing, Lee highlighted the case of his constituent, Weldon Angelos, the 36-year-old father of three from Utah, who was sentenced to 55 years in a federal prison after being arrested for selling marijuana three times to a police informant. When Lee was a federal prosecutor in Salt Lake City in 2004, one of Lee’s colleagues prosecuted Angelos. But Lee has now called on President Obama to grant him clemency. On Tuesday, the former federal judge who sentenced him, Paul G. Cassell, also called on President Obama to grant him clemency.