Attorney General Jeff Session has ordered federal prosecutors to crack down on drug offenders. He also made it plain that he has plans to turn back to an earlier, tougher stance seen in the earlier eras of the four-decades-long war on drugs.

Aggressive Drug Offenders Crack Down by Sessions

As Sessions wrote in a memo, federal prosecutors should “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” in drug cases, even if it means enforcing mandatory minimum sentencing.

Mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses and users have been controversial for years. Members from both sides of the aisle – Republicans and Democrats – now view most sentencing laws as unfair, ineffective and too costly.

The new Justice Department policy was quick to cancel the Obama administration’s attempts to end harsh sentencing strategies and actually restores some of the language from a 2003 memo written by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Many of these harsh sentencing strategies are responsible for the huge growth of prison populations following that 2003 memo.

Speaking at the Justice Department, Sessions said the newly proposed crackdown on sentencing was “a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe.” The Trump administration links drug trafficking to increased homicide rates in some U.S. cities.

“We are returning to the enforcement of the law as passed by Congress – plain and simple,” Sessions said.

Sessions rescinded policy memos signed in 2013 and 2014 by then Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that aimed to instruct prosecutors that the toughest charges should be reserved for high-level traffickers and violent criminals.

Since those 2013 and 2014 memos, the number of drug offenders that received mandatory minimum sentences dropped dramatically, contributing to a 14% decline in the total federal prison population.

Holder responded to Sessions’ policy, calling it “ideologically motivated” and not supported by facts.”The policy announced today is not tough on crime,” Holder said. “It is dumb on crime.”

Others Respond

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan criticized the new policy, saying that enforcing mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately targets minorities because of how different drugs are categorized under the law.

The “new policy will accentuate that injustice,” Paul said.

“Sessions is an outlier in his own party and even among many of his own colleagues in the administration,” said Inimai Chettiar, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law in New York. “A lot of Republicans support reductions in sentencing.”
Sessions Reversing Other Obama Admin Decisions

Since becoming a part of the Trump administration, Sessions has reversed other Obama administration decisions, including the attempt to phase out federal contracts with private prisons. Sessions believes additional prison cells will be needed for the incoming and imminent boost in inmate population.

Under current mandatory sentencing laws, judges have little discretion on how they should sentence drug offenders. A prosecutors’ decisions regarding charges often determine how long those charged will spend in prison.

Certain determining factors include if a prosecutor includes the amount of drugs in written charges as well as if specific motions are filed regarding sentence enhancements. These sentence enhancements can double drug sentences for repeat offenders, or put them in jail for life.

Prosecutors often use these tactics as a way to force plea negotiations or cooperation from offenders

In his recent memo, Sessions said prosecutors must disclose “all facts” relevant to a sentence, such as drug amounts. He also canceled a Holder implemented policy that said prosecutors should not use sentence enhancement motions to coerce guilty pleas from offenders.

“Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business,” Sessions said. “If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.”
The fact that heroin is cheaper, purer and more easily available than ever is what some advocates believe to be the result of policies of the past have failed.

Sessions believes tougher enforcement could “reverse that trend.”

A former federal judge said he was forced to sentence a low-level drug dealer to life in prison when the defendant refused to take a plea deal for 20 years in prison. He was later convicted at trial and received a life in prison conviction.

“Under no circumstances was this sentence justice,” said the former judge, Kevin Sharp. “We ruined his life.”

When it comes to drug cases, Sharp believes a judge’s role in sentencing is dramatically reduced. “I have yet to talk to a judge who says mandatory minimums are a good idea,” he said.

If Sessions has his way we might just see a re-kindling of the Nixon-era war on drugs.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs was declared by President Richard Nixon on June 17, 1971. The origins for this war can be traced to December 5, 1969, when Nixon appointed Stephen Hess to the position of National Chairman of the White House Conference for Children and Youth. Hess’s task was to “listen well to the voices of young Americans – in the universities, on the farms, the assembly lines, the street corners,” in the hopes of uncovering their opinions on America’s domestic and international affairs. After two years of intensive planning, Hess and 1,486 delegates from across the country met in a Colorado resort, and, for four days in 1971, discussed ten areas that most concerned the youth of America.

One of the dozen or so topics or areas of concern was drugs.

A small task force on drugs, composed of eight youths and four adults, forcefully argued for addressing the root causes of drug abuse, advocating therapy for addicts rather than incarceration or punishment. In other words, they advocated a treatment approach to drug addiction, rather than a judicial approach.

This enlightened approach to drug addiction did not prevail; however, as there was only so much federal funding to go around, the enforcement approach seemed the less costly way to go. Just three months after the Youth Conference met, Nixon launched a drug war that framed drug users not as alienated youths whose addiction was caused by inhabiting a fundamentally inequitable society, but as criminals attacking the moral fiber of the nation, people who deserved only incarceration and punishment.

The war continues today, with federal and state drug enforcement agencies having evolved into paramilitary organizations that closely resemble military units deployed in the Middle East. Watching their exploits on TV would leave one to believe that they really are effective and can make a difference, but further reflection on the subject makes one remember that these programs have been on the air for years, with episodes from seven or eight years ago looking much like the current episodes.

Nixon’s drug war has proven to be America’s longest war. It has destroyed millions of lives, and turned the U.S. into the world’s leading incarcerator with less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners.

Many Americans, though certainly not all, would agree that our current war on drugs seems to have almost no deterrent effect on the use of drugs. There are many, particularly from the conservative end of the spectrum, who feel we should double down on current efforts, we being way too soft on offenders.

With the recent election and appointment of Sessions we might just find ourselves on the other end of the spectrum. Only time will tell.

Drug Charge Attorney Los Angeles

As a former prosecutor, Mr. Perlman has a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system. He knows the right steps to take in staying ahead of the prosecution by identifying any procedural errors, contradictory evidence or violations of your civil rights.

We also help clients fight civil drug penalties such as asset forfeiture of motor vehicles, cash or real estate allegedly connected to drug crimes, including seizure of a parent’s home because his or her child was caught dealing on the property.

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At the Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman, we represent people facing serious drug charges and drug-related offenses under both California and federal law, including:

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Depending on the facts of your case, you can benefit from our familiarity with the community treatment and diversion programs that can protect you from criminal consequences, as well as from our experience with the presentation of strong defenses at trial.

Contact Our Law Firm – Drug Charge Attorney Los Angeles

Any drug charge is a serious accusation that could result in prison time, other serious penalties, and a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. The good news is that there is a defense to every charge. Contact our office in Los Angeles at 213-514-8324, at 213-514-8324 or by e-mail to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. – Drug Crimes Attorney Los Angeles

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.
Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman