Nov. 18: Goodlatte-Conyers Bill with New Heroin Penalty Heads to Cmte.

Nov. 18: Goodlatte-Conyers Bill with New Heroin Penalty Heads to Cmte.

Legislation authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) that includes an expanded penalty for heroin containing fentanyl, will be considered by the full House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at a full committee markup.  

The bill, H.R. 3713, the Sentencing Reform Act, would give prosecutors and judges the option of adding a penalty of up to five years for trafficking heroin containing fentanyl. The penalty can not run concurrent and is to be an add on to an existing drug sentence.  The provision also eliminates probation for such a defendant.  

There were 2,431 defendants prosecuted federally for heroin in 2014 according to to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Recently, a spike in fentanyl-heroin related cases has been reported in the news. On March 18, 2015, the Drug Enforcement Agency posted an alert regarding fentanyl laced heroin that included specific data on the fentanyl spike. 

|| RELATED: March 2015, DEA Nationwide Alert on fentanyl-heroin ||

“Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” said then DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart in March.

“In the last two years, DEA has seen a significant resurgence in fentanyl-related seizures. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), state and local labs reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013.  In addition, DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds,” the March 2015 DEA alert states.

|| RELATED: October 2015, Staten Island Advance Exclusive: Surge in heroin laced with fentanyl, a lethal painkiller ||

There are 31 co-sponosors on Goodlatte’s bill including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Danny Davis (D-IL), and Lacy Clay (D-MO).  

Though the bill contains the added penalty for fentanyl-heroin trafficking and expands other penalties, President Obama is likely to sign any justice reform bill that comes to his desk.  The President has indicated repeatedly that he wants a justice reform legacy piece before he leaves office.

|| RELATED: October 2015, CDC issues warning on fentanyl abuse ||

If H.R. 3713 is expected to be combined with S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act authored primarily by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

The bill would make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, authored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and signed into law by President Obama on August 3, 2010, retroactive.  That provision could benefit about 5,500 inmates currently in federal prison with a sentencing reduction.  The law narrowed the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 1:100 to 1:18.  During lengthy negotiations, Senate Republicans blocked it from being 1:1.

How much of that decrease would be erased by prosecuting more defendants under the new fentanyl-heroin penalty is unknown.  The cost of the average prison bed in federal prisons is $29,000 per inmate per year. The current federal prison population is 205,000 with half of those incarcerated on drug crimes.