Sessions moves to lengthen drug sentences

Politico – by Josh Gerstein

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reversing one of the central elements of the Obama administration’s criminal justice reform agenda: a Justice Department policy that led to prosecutors in drug cases often filing charges in a way that avoided triggering mandatory minimum sentences in federal law.

Sessions is withdrawing a 2013 directive from Attorney General Eric Holder that instructed federal prosecutors not to specify the amount of drugs involved when charging low-level and non-violent drug offenders. That policy effectively gave judges discretion to set sentences lower than the mandatory punishments ranging from five years to life in prison federal law dictates when someone is convicted of a crime involving a certain quantity of illegal drugs.  

In a memo distributed to federal prosecutors nationwide Thursday, Sessions said the department default in future cases will return to a previous policy of filing the most serious charge available against a defendant under the provable facts.

“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Sessions said in the directive, dated Wednesday.

The attorney general suggested that moves to lessen the impact of mandatory minimums should come from Congress, rather than being unilaterally implemented by the Executive Branch.

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us,” he wrote.

Sessions’ move bucks a growing trend in recent years—in Washington and in states across the country—to abandon some of the harshest sentencing policies created in the 1980s-era war on drugs. Many experts say those laws and sentencing rules led to drug offenders spending decades in prison or even receiving life behind bars, when lesser sentences would have been adequate. The laws also ballooned the prison population, leading to costs that were unsustainable for some state governments.

“The Justice Department’s expected shift to prosecuting and incarcerating more offenders, including low-level and drug offenders, is an ineffective way to protect public safety,” Brett Tolman, a U.S. Attorney for Utah under President George W. Bush, said in a statement anticipating the policy change. “Decades of experience shows we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of America’s drug problem. Instead, we must direct resources to treatment and to specifically combatting violent crime. This will help law enforcement do our jobs better.”

However, Sessions’ action does appear to dovetail with his concern that violent crime and drug-related crime are on the rise and that more aggressive law enforcement can help combat that trend. While violent crime statistics have ticked up in the past couple of years, they remain near historic lows. There is a bipartisan consensus that certain forms of drug abuse are on the rise, particularly abuse of opioids and prescription painkillers.

Speaking at an opioid-abuse summit in West Virginia Thursday, Sessions conceded that problem won’t be solved solely by putting more people in prison but he insisted that tougher law enforcement is an essential part of the solution.

“It is a big, critical part of it,” the attorney general said. “We’re on a bad trend right now. We’ve got too much complacency about drugs. Too much talk about recreational drugs,” Sessions said, railing against what he called “the pro-drug crowd.”

While the new policy does instruct prosecutors to generally pursue the most serious provable charge, it does allow for exceptions based on “good judgment.” The policy does not list any criteria for those exceptions, but says they must be approved by supervisors in U.S. attorneys’ offices or at Justice Department headquarters.

Sessions’ move will change plea negotiations with defendants, although it’s not entirely clear what the ultimate impact will be. Individuals transporting a large quantity of drugs or with tangential involvement in a conspiracy involving large amounts of drugs will expect to more often be exposed to the potential of a stiff minimum mandatory sentence, which could induce them to cooperate.

Much will depend on the exceptions allowed under the new policy and whether prosecutors use that mechanism to file reduced charges against such cooperators or whether prosecutors use their continuing discretion in such instances not to file any charges at all against the lowest-level participants in a crime.

5 thoughts on “Sessions moves to lengthen drug sentences

  1. This is the big problem with the repugs, they are so “law & Order” it makes me want to throw up. Sessions is a little Nazi, he loves to lock people up for decades, ruin them financially, destroy their lives for daring to compete with big pharma. Sessions and his ilk disgust me.

    1. Completely agreed.

      Sessions is also just plain stupid, as are all those who think the answer to drug abuse is more criminalization. Some people just aren’t capable of understanding that drug prohibition is doomed to fail for the same reasons that alcohol prohibition failed.

      1. “Some people just aren’t capable of understanding that drug prohibition is doomed to fail…”

        They understand it perfectly, BMF. They COUNT on it to fail.

        WAY more mammon to be extracted that way.

  2. “This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency.”

    It affirms NOTHING, @sswipe! You have ZERO AUTHORITY!

    “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us,” he wrote.”

    In DIRECT VIOLATION of the Bill of Rights, scumbag!!! Which makes you ALL traitors to this country.

    “The laws also ballooned the prison population, leading to costs that were unsustainable for some state governments.”

    That’s bullsh#t.

    Prisons have always been run for profit, whether by the state or privatized (which most are, these days).

    There’s an upside to this… if people realize they may never see the light of day again if they get caught… ALL THE MORE INCENTIVE TO SMOKE THE POS KING’S MEN!!!!!

  3. Hopefully sessions will shorten my drug sentence.
    Because I finally realize. ..
    I’ve been fkd up most of my life.
    Now that’s a crime.
    Thanks for the drugs man.
    He ain’t doin sh! T.

    Sit down and shut the fk up sessions.
    You try to stop our drugs that have been supplied by your previous jew overlords.
    You’ll definately pay the price.

    Go have your secretary make you a cup of coffee.
    And shut the fk up.

    Now pass me the coke and heroin.
    Thanks Jeff…!!!

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