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Holder Endorses Proposal to Reduce Drug Sentences

  1. ZenobiaSky
    [IMGL=WHITE]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=37770&stc=1&d=1394755178[/IMGL] Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is endorsing a proposal that would reduce prison sentences for people convicted of dealing drugs, the latest sign of the Obama administration’s retrenchment in the war on drugs.

    In January, the United States Sentencing Commission proposed changing federal guidelines to lessen the average sentence for drug dealers by about one year, to 51 months from 62 months. Mr. Holder testified before the commission on Thursday in support of the plan.

    With the support of several Republicans in Congress, the attorney general is separately pushing for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. In January, the Justice Department issued a call encouraging low-level criminals serving lengthy sentences on crack cocaine charges to apply for clemency.

    Since the late 1970s, the prison population in the United States has ballooned into the world’s largest. About one in every 100 adults is locked up.

    In the federal prison system, the one that would be affected by the proposed changes, half of the 215,000 inmates are serving time for drug crimes. Under the changes being considered, the federal prison population would decrease by about 6,550 inmates over the next five years, according to government estimates.

    “This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable,” Mr. Holder said. “It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

    The nation’s prison population peaked in 2009 at more than 1.6 million inmates. Since then, as state budgets have tightened and crime has hit record low levels, that number has declined each year.

    Public attitudes have also changed. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana, and Colorado and Washington have legalized it for recreational purposes.

    President Obama has said that marijuana is not that different from tobacco and no more dangerous than alcohol, and his administration has declined to stand in the way of legalization. Last month, Mr. Holder announced rules to help bring legitimate marijuana businesses into the banking system, which had been off limits.

    About a third of the Justice Department’s budget goes to the prison system, a fact that has helped Mr. Holder win conservative allies for sentencing changes. He met recently with libertarian-minded Republicans in the House and Senate, including members who oppose him on many other issues.

    But Raymond F. Morrogh, the top prosecutor in Fairfax County, Va., said budget woes were no reason to make sentencing more lenient.

    “Shouldn’t we consider other areas of the federal budget to trim the fat off of, rather than roll the dice with the safety of America’s communities?” Mr. Morrogh said, testifying on behalf of the National District Attorneys Association.

    He said prosecutors use the threat of tough sentences to persuade defendants to cooperate and help the government unravel criminal organizations.

    “Rewarding convicted felons with lighter sentences because America can’t balance its budget doesn’t seem fair to both victims of crime and the millions of families in America victimized every year by the scourge of drugs in America’s communities,” Mr. Morrogh said.

    Mr. Holder has also described prison reform as a matter of civil rights. African-Americans are disproportionately represented in prison: They make up 13 percent of the nation’s population, but 37 percent of the federal prison population.

    The crack epidemic is one of the main reasons the prison population has grown so much. In 2010, Congress voted unanimously to reduce the 100-to-one disparity between sentences for crack cocaine offenses and those for powdered cocaine. Blacks received harsher sentences under those guidelines because crack has been more popular in black neighborhoods, while whites have been more likely to use powdered cocaine.

    The Sentencing Commission writes the guidelines that judges must consider. It is soliciting comments on the proposed sentencing reductions and will vote, probably in April, on whether to carry them out. Unless Congress voted to reject the proposals, the commission’s changes would go into effect in November.

    Until then, the Justice Department said Mr. Holder would tell federal prosecutors not to oppose any sentence that would fall under the more lenient guidelines.

    “This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges, while measured in scope, would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Mr. Holder said. “And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”

    MARCH 13, 2014
    The New York Times

    The Newhawks Crew


  1. ZenobiaSky
    Prosecutors push back on Holder's drug crimes sentencing proposal

    Prosecutors push back on Holder's drug crimes sentencing proposal

    [IMGL=WHITE]http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=37804&stc=1&d=1394955559[/IMGL]WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder's broad effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and reduce sentences for defendants in most drug cases is facing resistance among federal prosecutors and district attorneys nationwide, with some vigorously opposing his plans.

    Opponents of Holder's initiatives argue that tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command.

    Longer prison sentences for more criminals has led to a significant decline in the crime rate over the past 20 years, these critics insist, and they also argue that Holder's reforms are driven by federal budget constraints, not public safety.

    "Rewarding convicted felons with lighter sentences because America can't balance its budget doesn't seem fair to both victims of crime and the millions of families in America victimized every year by the scourge of drugs in America's communities," said Raymond Morrogh, Commonwealth's attorney in Fairfax County, Va., and director at large for the National District Attorneys Association, in testimony Thursday to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

    Holder on Thursday endorsed an amendment to federal sentencing guidelines that would reduce sentences for defendants in most of the nation's drug cases. The proposal is being considered by the commission, an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal judges. This followed the attorney general's announcement in August that low-level, non-violent defendants would not automatically be charged with federal offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

    "This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges -- while measured in scope - would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system," Holder said Thursday of his latest effort. "And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety."

    The prospect of ending mandatory minimum sentences had earlier drawn fire from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, which has been lobbying senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill to prevent any legislation that would change the current system.

    "We believe our current sentencing laws have kept us safe and should be preserved, not weakened," said Robert Gay Guthrie, an assistant U.S. attorney in Oklahoma and president of the prosecutors' organization. "Don't take away our most effective tool to get cooperation from offenders."

    The organization that represents line federal prosecutors has written letters to Holder, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, urging them not to change the sentencing rules. Guthrie said that 96 percent of about 500 prosecutors who were surveyed in an association poll did not support Holder's plan.

    But other assistant U.S. attorneys -- as well as several U.S. attorneys who were interviewed -- said the new guidelines will reduce prison overcrowding and are more equitable to certain defendants who can face severe sentences under the current system.

    "It allows us to be more fair in recommending sentences where the level of culpability varies among defendants in a large drug organization, but where the organization itself is moving large quantities of drugs," said John Horn, first assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Georgia. "Before the new policy, every defendant involved with over five kilos of coke would be subject to a minimum 10 or 20 years whether he was a courier, someone in a stash house, a cell head or an organizational leader, and those distinctions can be important."

    Or, as former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride put it: Former Mexican drug lord "Chapo Guzman and some low-level street dealer in Richmond simply don't pose the same existential threat to society."

    In a recent case in Georgia, Edward Vaughn, 57, was charged in a drug-distribution and money-laundering case that involved an organization trafficking more than 500 grams of heroin as well as more than five kilograms of cocaine. Vaughn was implicated in only one of the heroin transactions.

    Under the old rules, a conviction for trafficking 500 grams or more of heroin required a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but it increased to 10 years if the defendant had a prior drug conviction, as Vaughn did, Horn said. It was a 2006 conviction for possessing a small amount of crack cocaine and Horn said that prosecutors decided the case did not warrant the severe additional 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for the prior conviction. Instead of 15 years, Vaughn's sentence will be 78 to 97 months under the new guidelines.

    "The new policy allows us to look at each defendant individually to see if it's really justified to seek a mandatory minimum sentence," Horn said.

    The Georgia case is exactly the kind that Holder was targeting when he announced in August one of the most significant criminal justice policy shifts in years, officials said.

    Sally Yates, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said any new system will require some period of adjustment.

    "This is a sea change for assistant U.S. attorneys," said Yates, who was appointed by President Barack Obama after working as an assistant U.S. attorney for more than 20 years. "They grew up in a system in which they were required to seek the most serious charge, which often resulted in the longest sentence. Now, the attorney general is saying, 'Look at the circumstances of every case and his or her prior criminal history in determining the fair and appropriate charge.' That's a lot harder than robotically following a bright line rule."

    Timothy Heaphy, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said prosecutors in his office at first had concerns similar to those of the association. "But as time goes on," he said, "people are understanding that we're spending less money on prisons and it is more fair to tailor our charging discretion."

    In the end, a Justice Department official said, assistant U.S. attorneys are free to express their opinions internally, but they don't make policy. They have to follow the new guidelines, the official added.

    Indeed, when Guthrie was asked Thursday about Holder's newest proposal, he acknowledged: "We'll follow the direction of the Attorney General. He's our boss."

    The Washington Post
    Mar 15 2014 - 7:13pm
    The Standard Examiner

    The Newhawks Crew
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