US Federal Prosecutors No Longer Applying Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences
Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
“I have today mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Cited reasons for the change in prosecution:
Eric Holder: “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” At only five percent of the world’s population, the US imprisons 50 percent of the world’s criminals, Holder remarked.
Overcrowded federal prisons are operating at over 40% capacity. There are 219,000 serving drug related charges and have addiction problems.
Budget constraints and the potential to save money and divert that money to other social programs. The unsustainability of the program.
Ineffectiveness of the “war on drugs” national strategy into the fifth decade.
Shameful racial disparities
It’s pragmatic and common sense. America cannot “prosecute” a path to safety.
Settles a human and moral cost.
Effective immediately, federal prosecutors will no longer charge certain drug use under present mandatory legal guidelines.
With the help of Congressmen and Senators, the Obama Administration is also seeking greater independence and leeway for federal judges in determining sentences.
There may be some tempting benefits to ditch mandatory sentences for drug users that are: non-violent, have not committed a more serious offense and are not affiliated with any known criminal organizations like gangs or cartels. On the other hand, the bigger issue is whether American presidents and their cabinet members should be setting policy and executive level behavior that arbitrarily ignores present law, legal guidelines and Congressional consensus.
“If Attorney General Holder wants to reform our criminal justice system, he should work with Congress to do so,” U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). He has a point. What good is law, even bad law, if presidents can simply ignore them?
Other reactions went from congress went in a different direction. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rand Paul (R- KY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) have all fought the mandatory sentencing.
Still, the mandatory sentences prevent prosecution from selective targeting or throwing in drug related charges in addition to other crimes when they feel like it. They prevent favoritism or discrimination at the prosecutory level.
So another issue is giving prosecution too much power and independence from legal standards. This also lowers risk to new recreational drug users and may effectively give them a green light to break the law in using contraband substances.
Nevertheless, America continues to waste resources on the “war on drugs” unnecessarily against the drug users that are not a danger to the public. The anti-drug strategy needs a whole-of-government restructuring that includes all three branches looking out for the interests of the American people.
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