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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

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:
July 19, 2010 In The News


Jury deliberations in the trial of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed Black man in Oakland on New Year's Day 2009 are expected to resume Thursday after they were restarted Wednesday.

The jury began deliberations for 2 1/2 hours last Friday, but when jurors reassembled Tuesday after the long weekend, one of the original jurors had been excused because of a pre-planned vacation and another juror was ill.

July 1, 2010 In The News

By Michael Doyle

The drug gangsters who grow marijuana and cook meth in Sierra Nevada forests would face stiffer penalties under a bill introduced Wednesday by a San Joaquin Valley lawmaker.

Amid fears that public lands have become riddled by illicit drug plots, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, authored a bill to impose 10-year prison sentences for drug production in national parks, national forests and other federal properties.

"There are a lot of dangers up in the forests," Nunes said Wednesday, "and I think this will make a dent in that."

January 25, 2010 Press Release
Help Find the Missing
January 22, 2010 Committee Remark
Judic. Subcommittee
December 16, 2009 Committee Remark

"Thank you Mr. Chairman for organizing this hearing to discuss digital piracy and the impact it has had on sports broadcasters and their ability to maximize revenues.