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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Criminal Justice

I support effective crime prevention measures to keep our families and communities safe. Those accused of crimes must be treated fairly, and those who are guilty must be punished appropriately and justly.  As an advocate for equality under the law and fair administration of justice, I work with other Members of Congress to develop responses to the challenges in the criminal justice system. 

Mandatory minimum prison sentences interfere with judicial authority and impose “one size fits all” penalties without considering specific circumstances.  In addition, mandatory minimum sentences – especially those related to drug possession – and laws that impose more severe penalties for crack cocaine than powder cocaine have resulted in the incarceration of a disproportionate amount of African Americans. 

While serving in Congress, I have introduced various measures to address problems related to mandatory minimum sentencing.  Most recently, I introduced the Major Drug Traffickers Prosecution Act of 2009 (H.R. 1466).  This bill would restore judicial discretion, end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and re-focus scarce federal resources to prosecute major drug kingpins. 

In other areas of criminal law, I have advocated against juvenile life sentences and the death penalty.  Studies have shown significant discrimination in the application of the death penalty, including one that revealed defendants convicted of killing a White person were more than 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed a Black person and over 4 times more likely than those who killed a Latino.  Furthermore, doubt surrounding the innocence of some people sentenced to death has prompted some states to recognize the need to either prohibit executions or impose a temporary moratorium on the death penalty. 

I am also concerned about abusive and unconstitutional practices by some law enforcement officers.  The men and women who police our streets and protect our neighborhoods have important responsibilities and face real dangers.  However, they must be held to high standards of professionalism based on codified criminal procedures and policing practices.  They should not be given sweeping power to momentarily strip individuals of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights – the amendments that govern criminal procedure, restricting and limiting certain government actions.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, I will continue my work to ensure the civil rights and liberties of all people are protected.

More on Criminal Justice

March 26, 2014 In The News

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles International Airport was ill prepared for a crisis when a gunman ambushed security officers last year, and the emergency response was hindered by communication problems and poor coordination, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report spotlighted flaws in various divisions of the airport and in systems that were in place, but it did not single out individuals responsible for problems.

December 20, 2013 Press Release

Following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) announcement of a settlement with Ocwen Financial Corporation, the nation's largest nonbank mortgage loan servicer, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, lauded the CFPB's efforts to return millions of dollars to adversely affected consumers and billions more to mitigate foreclosures.

September 26, 2013 In The News

One of the most well-attended sessions at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Convention, was the Criminal Justice Issues Forum hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Ca.), with the keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. 

September 18, 2013 Press Release

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), was thrilled to join the U.S. Department of Justice in announcing that the City of Inglewood will receive a $1 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program grant, to hire eight new law enforcement officers.

September 12, 2013 Press Release

Today on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), a Congressional leader in the fight to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, reintroduced the Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act (H.R. 3088). This bill would re-focus scarce federal resources to prosecute major drug kingpins and give courts and judges the authority to use greater discretion to make individualized determinations rather than being held to a stringent sentencing requirement prescribed by Congress.  

August 13, 2013 In The News

In a stunning turn in criminal justice policy, Attorney General Eric Holder announced steps the Justice Department will take to address over population in federal prisons by changing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and pushing non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs instead of prison cells.

August 12, 2013 Press Release

"I am very pleased with Attorney General Holder's announcement today that federal prosecutors will no longer pursue draconian mandatory minimum prison sentences in cases involving low-level, non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale gangs and cartels.  The Justice Department's policy shift largely adopts core components of legislation that I've introduced consistently for nearly 15 years – the Major Drug Traffickers Prosecution Act – and is the culmination of the tireless efforts among reform advocates who have spent many years in the courts, Congress, and town halls across

July 31, 2013 In The News

As the national debate over gun violence escalates, the Congressional Black Caucus came to Chicago on Friday promising to put together a plan to curb violence in urban areas.

But at the end of the daylong event, many of the solutions they came up with were nothing new to people in neighborhoods hard-hit by crime: They need jobs. They need more educational opportunities. They need after-school programs.

January 22, 2013 In The News

For some lucky ticket holders, inauguration weekend kicked off Saturday with a screening of Eugene Jarecki's provocative documentary about America's war on drugs, "The House I Live In," at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington's Shaw neighborhood.

The documentary offers a scathing critique of America's criminal justice system and was co-produced by Danny Glover, Brad Pitt, Russell Simmons and John Legend.

June 16, 2011 Press Release
Congresswoman Maxine Waters was invited to speak before the Drug Policy Alliance’s press conference on the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s Declaration of a ‘War on Drugs’ today. Rep. Waters delivered the following remarks:

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