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April 2, 2014

"Law Enforcement Lobby Quietly Tries To Kill Sentencing Reform"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Huffington Post piece.  Here are excerpts:

Several organizations representing state and local law enforcement are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America’s drug war three decades ago.

These groups include the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association, The Huffington Post has learned.

They hope to weaken congressional support for the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reform the nation's mandatory minimum statutes, authorizing federal judges to sentence drug defendants to less time behind bars than what current law requires. The legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, when, in a rare instance of bipartisan collaboration these days, Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona joined the committee’s Democrats in supporting the measure. Its House counterpart is still sitting in committee....

Major drug dealers “need to be locked up somewhere,” [Bob] Bushman [president of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, one of the groups fighting the bill] told HuffPost. “Some of these folks have worked hard to get to prison."...

A number of law enforcement agencies have already joined advocacy groups like the ACLU in endorsing the bill. They include the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the International Union of Police Associations, the American Correctional Association, the International Community Corrections Association and the American Probation and Parole Association. Attorney General Eric Holder backs the measure as well.

Bushman and his allies, however, aren’t the first law enforcement advocates to speak out against the bill. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys have also come out against federal sentencing reform in recent months. Unlike Bushman’s cohorts, both of these groups represent officials who work for the federal government, and both have stated their positions in public.

The National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Sheriffs' Association and the other state and local groups have been working behind the scenes. Several of them had previously lined up against Debo Adegbile, the president's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and helped block his confirmation last month.

Lobbyists with the National Association of Police Organizations and other groups met with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Walsh (D-Mont.) to discuss their opposition to the reform package. A spokeswoman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police confirmed that the organization was lobbying against changes on Capitol Hill, but said it wasn't prepared to speak publicly on the topic.

Fred Wilson, an official with the National Sheriffs' Association, said his group isn't formally opposed to the legislation in principle but believes the bill needs more study -- even though it has already passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It may be [late], but our legislative folks seem to think not all is lost," Wilson said.

A letter from Bushman and his group to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- just one of several letters written by the Smarter Sentencing Act opponents that Bushman said are floating around Capitol Hill -- argues that federal policy should not be driven by "second-order effects of America’s drug problem" like incarceration costs....

Bushman said it was "a little early" to talk about whether law enforcement groups could be won over with a compromise bill this time, but said members of Congress first need to look at the "broader implications" of rolling back mandatory minimums. Democratic congressional aides acknowledged that they have been speaking with a number of law enforcement groups about the bill and said they hoped some of the concerns raised would be addressed, but likewise noted it was still relatively early in the legislative process.

April 2, 2014 at 05:15 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I don't think this article can be right. I have previously been reliably assured that it was just Robert Gay Guthrie and me.

http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2014/01/are-hundreds-of-career-prosecutors-or-mainly-just-bill-otis-now-in-open-revolt-over-ag-holders-suppo.html

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 2, 2014 7:04:24 PM

"A letter from Bushman and his group to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- just one of several letters written by the Smarter Sentencing Act opponents that Bushman said are floating around Capitol Hill -- argues that federal policy should not be driven by "second-order effects of America’s drug problem" like incarceration costs...."

That's right law and order types, like the sheriffs and the police and and the prison guard unions, don't care about the "incarceration costs." They just give feeding at the trough like pigs. Just build more and more prisons and keep those police salaries and pension benefits flowing. Grover Norquist and Ted Cruz, Jason Chafetz, Mike Lee, and other Republican tea party types and fiscal hawks be damned.

Posted by: observer | Apr 2, 2014 8:54:03 PM

Ah, the voice of thousands of authoritarians bleating "criminal-lovers". Apparently we can't get anything done because reelection is a more important word than sensibility. Makes me want to go pick up Mark Leibovitz's This Town and commiserate.

Posted by: Skeptical | Apr 2, 2014 9:15:04 PM

Well, Bill, given the notable and seemingly continued efforts by Robert Gay Guthrie and others to be pretty hush-hush about opposition to the SSA, I would continue to wonder about any "open revolt against the Attorney General."

The fact that folks long involved in perpetuating/supporting the federal drug war remain eager to keep beating the drums of war --- and/or remain eager for the federal taxpayers rather than states to bear the economic costs of this war effort --- does not surprise me at all. Indeed, I have been surprised at how long it has taken for these usual suspects to start flexing their considerable political muscles. What my prior post questioned is whether your assertion that "hundreds of career prosecutors" were in "open revolt against the Attorney General" was an accurate statement or instead Otis hyperbole.

Since that post, notably, I have repeatedly requested of you and of folks at NAAUSA details about the supposed "hundreds of career prosecutors" now in "open revolt" against the Attorney General. I also have publicly and repeatedly expressed sincere interest in hearing from, and providing a safe forum for, expressed opposition to the SSA. In response, a couple of AUSAs have written directly to me to share their perspectives, and I have benefited greatly and learned from hearing from them and better understanding their views. Similarly, I would be eager to post/link to any and all letters/statements from groups that have written in opposition to the SSA. Problematically, though, it seems that many who oppose the SSA --- Bill Otis definitely excluded --- are much more eager to use back channels to express their disaffinity for the SSA rather than use public venues to express opposition that could/would allow all to see/hear/consider the nature of this opposition.

As I am sure you believe, Bill, federal sentencing reform in the SSA and other like proposals is a VERY important matter involving a lot of competing concerns and worthy of lots of public discourse and consideration. My goal is to encourage this public discourse and consideration, in part because I think responsible democratic decision-making depends on such efforts. I surmise you share this view, and accordingly I hope you will post whatever anti-SSA materials you have access to on your blog and/or help me find a means to post them on this blog.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 2, 2014 9:41:20 PM

There is a parallel with the Military Industrial Complex. There, the corporations selling arms are in league with the states with large military bases and military populations, and with those in the military who wish to fight wars. They have their chosen legislators who fight for the wars and the money. This is very similar.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Apr 2, 2014 11:22:29 PM

Doug, writes "I have been surprised at how long it has taken for these usual suspects to start flexing their considerable political muscles"

Skeptical writes, "Apparently we can't get anything done because reelection..."


Timing in life is everything.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 3, 2014 2:31:50 AM

Daniel --

Aren't you the guy who said that we had more executions in election years so politicians could seem tough on crime? And then when I showed you, citing DPIC figures, that, from Obama's first election on, we have had more executions is off years than in election years, you went silent?

Are you that guy?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 9:04:27 AM

Skeptical --

"Ah, the voice of thousands of authoritarians bleating 'criminal-lovers.'"

Ah, the voice of the druggie bar bleating "authoritarians" at their opponents.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 9:08:09 AM

Skeptical --

One other question: When you're in open court, do you refer to opposing counsel as an "authoritarian?" Or do you just use your Internet anonymity to spread that kind of stuff here, lacking what it takes to say it to the prosecutor's face?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 9:19:46 AM

Doug --

"Well, Bill, given the notable and seemingly continued efforts by Robert Gay Guthrie and others to be pretty hush-hush about opposition to the SSA, I would continue to wonder about any "open revolt against the Attorney General."

Writing a widely circulated letter to the AG and Senate Judiciary, and doing an AP interview, is an odd way to be "hush-hush."

"The fact that folks long involved in perpetuating/supporting the federal drug war remain eager to keep beating the drums of war --- and/or remain eager for the federal taxpayers rather than states to bear the economic costs of this war effort --- does not surprise me at all."

The fact that folks long involved in perpetuating the myth drug use just isn't that worrisome -- and that a few, or a few thousand, overdose deaths are just, ya know, the price of doing business -- does not surprise me at all.

"What my prior post questioned is whether your assertion that "hundreds of career prosecutors" were in "open revolt against the Attorney General" was an accurate statement or instead Otis hyperbole."

What it mainly questioned was whether it was "mainly just Bill Otis" (your exact words) who opposed the SSA. I trust that is now over with, right?

"Since that post, notably, I have repeatedly requested of you and of folks at NAAUSA details about the supposed "hundreds of career prosecutors" now in "open revolt" against the Attorney General."

I am not an officer or a representative of NAAUSA, so it is not mine to give. I am vastly better acquainted with the thinking of AUSA's than you are, and I can tell you that the feeling against this bill is wide and deep. If you choose not to believe me, that is your decision to make. I strongly suspect you know I'm right.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 10:02:24 AM

Bill Otis is right re: the opinions of a large number of AUSAs.

Posted by: Zachary B. | Apr 3, 2014 12:42:38 PM

I actually spoke to Gay Guthrie, President of the NAAUSA on Thursday, March 20. He returned my call from vacation at Disney World.

I said we were interested to learn more about his quote in the March 14 front page Washington Post story in which Guthrie said that 96% of prosecutors oppose AG Holder's plans on sentencing reform. Guthrie told me that was a "misquote" and a "misinterpretation." He said the actual number is "more like 76%" and that the poll question was only asked of drug prosecutors -- not of NAAUSA's general membership.

Mr. Guthrie said that more AUSAs were speaking out. He said, "There's more of a difference in the ranks than we thought, and it looks like a pretty even split."

I asked whether prosecutors were polled about "repealing mandatory minimums" or whether they were asked specifically about the incremental reforms in the SSA. Guthrie said, "It was the former, it was about mandatory minimums. It did not cover the bill."

I asked whether NAAUSA was planning to set the record straight, and Guthrie said, "Yes, definitely, we are trying to get a better read of what prosecutors think. Maybe AUSAs agree that reforms like those in the legislation are needed. We are going to make sure that we are representing the majority of the AUSAs. Right now, I'm not confident that we have done that."

I asked if they were going to set the record straight soon, as legislation may be moving in next few weeks or months, and Guthrie said, "We can't force people to give us feedback, but we're trying."

Jeremy Haile
Washington, DC

Posted by: Jeremy Haile | Apr 3, 2014 1:28:50 PM

So the poll basically asked the drug prosecutors whether they should have less power, and the answer was "no". What a revelation.

Posted by: Greg | Apr 3, 2014 3:10:47 PM

Greg --

So judges favoring the SSA are being asked if they should have more power, and the answer is "yes." What a revelation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 3:25:44 PM

Zachary B. --

Thanks.

How do you like teaching, now that you've changed careers?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 3:49:21 PM

Mr. Otis, how many judges do you know are in an adversarial relationship to a defendant? The modern system of mandatory sentencing allows the accused's adversary to determine the sentence.... Or else stack charges.

Posted by: Greg | Apr 3, 2014 4:04:40 PM

"Mr. Otis, how many judges do you know are in an adversarial relationship to a defendant?"

None.

If you'd care to name some sitting federal judges who have prejudged the defendant to his detriment, I'm certain that many on this board would be highly interested.

Could you supply a list of names?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 5:03:31 PM

I think you misunderstood. My point, as has been made to you before, is the cornerstone of the problems with mandatory minimum sentencing is that prosecutors, who are inherently in an adversarial relationship with defendant, should not be the one with power over the defendant's sentence outside of arguing the merits with the judge.

Since a judge's role is one of a neutral arbiter, your arguments that judges cannot be trusted with sentencing, but rather the defendant's adversary should be in charge, is suspect

Posted by: Greg | Apr 3, 2014 5:38:29 PM

It should not surprise anyone that legal and law enforcement professional associations take positions that benefit their members own pecuniary interest. If crime was somehow magically eliminated, society as a whole would benefit but some would be out of work - prosecutors, defense attorneys, prison guards etc...

That being said, Defense attorneys should be in line against SSA on those grounds.

Posted by: Matt Faler | Apr 3, 2014 11:51:11 PM

I have to say, everytime I read these comments now all I ever see is Bill Otis riling everyone up with his pithy comments. Why does anyone on here pay so much attention to him. It's not like he has anything new to say. The other question is, doesn't have any anything else to do ? Particulary where the website is not geared toward prosecution-minded folks. It's very annoying that he just can't comment and then keep quiet, like everyone else.

Posted by: Tim (defense atty) | Apr 4, 2014 5:21:47 PM

"Particulary where the website is not geared toward prosecution-minded folks."

Prosecution-minded folks, the book burning begins in 5 minutes. You are directed to report.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 4, 2014 7:54:37 PM

There is something inherently wrong when public officials can use tax-payer dollars to lobby and push an agenda on the lawmakers. I think it comes from the old saying that once voters realized they can reach into their neighbors pockets through the voting process that the ideals of democracy were lost. Law enforcement and the justice system are not exempt.

Posted by: albeed | Apr 5, 2014 9:48:09 AM

albeed --

For once, we completely agree. You are correct when you say, "There is something inherently wrong when public officials can use tax-payer dollars to lobby and push an agenda on the lawmakers."

All the law enforcement groups I am familiar with do NOT use taxpayer dollars to finance their opposition to dumbed-down sentencing. These groups (NAAUSA, NDAA and so forth) are private organizations that finance their activities using dues paid by members.

The use of tax money to support or oppose proposed legislation is unethical and almost certainly illegal.

(I would note, though, that Eric Holder, who gets more tax money than any other prosecutor, uses it to fly around the country IN SUPPORT OF enacting the SSA).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2014 11:25:39 AM

"These groups (NAAUSA, NDAA and so forth) are private organizations that finance their activities using dues paid by members."

Bill, does the government pay these "membership" dues as a submitted expense report item or are they strictly paid out of the "salaries" of the government employees.

Posted by: albeed | Apr 5, 2014 3:30:28 PM

albeed --

"Bill, does the government pay these 'membership' dues as a submitted expense report..."

No. The government does not pay them in any form whatever. If you want to be a member, it's like any other membership in a private organization. You pay the dues yourself.

If a government employee lists as business "expenses" his spending to belong to private clubs or associations, that is fraud and can be prosecuted. I personally would take pleasure in prosecuting it if I were back in the USAO.

Would you blame me?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2014 5:38:06 PM

I have to give bill this one Albeed. as long as the funds are coming from the voluntary donations from the employee. it's legal.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 6, 2014 12:20:52 AM

rodsmith:

I agree with you and Bill if that is the case. However, the NAUSA is separate from

"These groups include the National Sheriffs' Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs' Association,"

I am wondering if some of these groups get money directly from taxpayers?

Posted by: albeed | Apr 6, 2014 8:06:19 AM

albeed --

"I am wondering if some of these groups get money directly from taxpayers?"

"Wondering" doesn't get it done. Do you have any evidence at all that any of those groups is funded with tax money?

I don't think so, but I'll be happy to see it if you do.

Meanwhile, you conspicuously decline to dispute the that No. 1 prosecutor, Eric Holder, and HIS campaigning about the SSA, most certainly ARE funded with tax dollars. Are you going to write Holder to demand disclosure and accountability?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 6, 2014 10:09:45 AM

"Do you have any evidence at all that any of those groups is funded with tax money?"

Bill, the answer to this question cannot be easily answered by simple Google Searches. That's one of the reasons I asked. If it is important enough to me, I will investigate further before I make any definitive claims one way or another.

Regarding Holder and his boss, I personally don't care what comes out of either one's mouth as they are the worst. They are about as accurate and dependable as a broken clock in telling the correct time. However, also in my historical observation of lawmakers, local and otherwise, I have noticed that the more ridiculous the law they propose, the more freedoms potentially lost, the more flags and uniformed LE they have standing behind them in the photo-op.

Posted by: albeed | Apr 6, 2014 4:18:10 PM

Paying for Memberships in Professional Organizations

5 U.S.C. 5946(1) prohibits the use of appropriated funds to pay for individual employee memberships in professional associations and societies. "However, there are several ways for an agency to obtain the professional, scientific, and technological information those associations provide their members."
September 2005

For example, association membership is often included in registration fees for a conference or meeting. "If the agency pays the registration fees, the employee’s membership in the association is an incidental by-product of meeting attendance. In addition, agencies may purchase an organizational membership in the association or society. They may also purchase a membership for a specific agency position, such as the position of Medical Director. The incumbent in that position uses the membership to improve the conduct, supervision, or management of his/her function."

When attendance is approved, the Agency will assist, if funds are available, with travel expenses, attendance or registration fees, and/or duty time for employees while at the event. If attendance at the professional activity is to improve job performance, then a Request for Training, SF-182 Form (Request, Authorization, Agreement and Certification of Training) must be completed. When limited funding restricts travel funds, supervisors and managers are encouraged to allow the use of government vehicles and grant work time for employees willing to cover all or part of their expenses to attend work-related professional meetings and to participate in organization, association, and society activities.

Posted by: FYI Professional Fees | Apr 7, 2014 5:20:04 PM

Thanks FYI PF for covering the federal aspects of federal civil servants in professional organizations. I did not believe that there was a blanket refusal from my past experiences on the private side of the fence.

I would believe that state, county and city restrictions would be somewhat even less restrictive than the federal.

Again Thanks!

Posted by: albeed | Apr 8, 2014 9:08:23 AM

The main point in publishing that was to confirm that YES, federal taxpayer money is most definitly being used to subsidize federal employee's activities in these professional organizations no matter what anyone else may be implying.

Posted by: FYI Professional Fees | Apr 8, 2014 2:22:09 PM

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