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September 19, 2013

"Holder directs attorneys to seek reduced sentences in pending drug cases"

The title of this post is the headline of this Washington Post report on the latest announcement from AG Eric Holder concerning federal drug prosecution policies. Here is how the article starts:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday that he has directed U.S. attorneys across the country to apply new sentencing guidelines to ongoing drug cases so that low-level, nonviolent offenders will not face severe mandatory sentences.

The new guidelines will be applied to suspects who have been charged but not yet put on trial, as well as to individuals who have been convicted but not yet sentenced. The directive does not affect offenders already sentenced or serving time in prison.

Holder announced last month that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders would no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences. The new directive marked an expansion of that effort.

“I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt,” Holder said in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus.

AG Holder's full speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Criminal Justice Issues Forum is now available at this link, and here are some additional excerpts:

America’s criminal justice system is in need of targeted reform. Throughout this country, too many Americans are trapped – and too many communities are weakened – by a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration. Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long – and for no truly good law enforcement reason. The U.S. prison population has grown at an astonishing rate over the last three decades – by almost 800 percent since 1980, despite the fact that America’s overall population has increased by only about a third. As we speak, more than 219,000 federal inmates are currently behind bars. Almost half are serving time for drug-related crimes. And many have substance use disorders.

Outside of the federal system, an additional nine to 10 million people cycle through local jails each year. And roughly 40 percent of former federal prisoners – along with more than 60 percent of former state prisoners – are rearrested or have their supervision revoked within three years after their release, at great cost to American taxpayers.

It’s clear, in a broad sense, that 20th-century criminal justice solutions are just not adequate to address the 21st century challenges we face. There’s no question that incarceration will always have a role to play in our criminal justice system. But there’s also no denying that widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels imposes significant human and moral costs – as well as a tremendous economic burden, totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone.

Especially in times of widespread budgetary difficulties and federal sequestration – when leaders at every level of government have been asked to do more with less – we must resolve, as a country and as a people, to do much better....

It’s time – in fact, it’s well past time – to take a fundamentally new approach. And today, I am proud to join you in working to ensure that – in this area and many others – the scales of justice find a more appropriate balance....

In addition – in recent months – the Justice Department also has updated its framework for considering compassionate release for some inmates who face extraordinary or compelling circumstances, and who pose no threat to the public. Of course, as our primary responsibility, we must ensure public safety. But considering the applications of certain people with convictions for nonviolent offenses – such as individuals seeking release on medical grounds, or elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences – is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. And it will allow the Bureau of Prisons to evaluate compassionate release applications through a careful review process before each case comes before a judge – who will make a final determination on whether release is warranted.

September 19, 2013 at 06:14 PM | Permalink


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Q: What two things (at least) do Eric Holder and Rand Paul have in common?

A: They both pander to racially selected audiences, and they're both politicians (one explicitly, the other less so).

Q: Where do they differ?

A: Paul supports complete abolition of federal mandatory minimums, for heroin, meth, the most rancid CP, firearms and everything else. Holder supports a watering down of MM's, but very conspicuously has not endorsed the Leahy/Paul bill.

Q: And what does that tell you about where the Leahy/Paul bill is going?

A: Everything you need to know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 19, 2013 6:34:44 PM

Is the defendant who fits the Holder-memo mold - and is appealing the sentence based on breach of plea agreement - get relief?.

Posted by: edougherty` | Sep 19, 2013 7:01:23 PM

Former Bush AG Mike Mukasey opposes mandatory minimums, too. He said that when he was AG, he reached out to leaders on the Hill to see if they would be open to it, they said no. When asked why he thought that was so, he said because they all want to look tough on crime.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Sep 19, 2013 8:09:02 PM

Thinkaboutit --

Do you want judges to have 100% say-so over sentencing, with no floor or ceiling whatever, for any crime, ever, imposed by Congress?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 19, 2013 8:15:53 PM

I've never understood the progressive argument perpetuated by Holder that we need to incarcerate less because most prisoners recidivate upon release. Doesn't an immediate return to anti-social behavior across the board justify the concept of incapacitation?

Posted by: mjs | Sep 19, 2013 10:14:08 PM

Federal keeps them so long when they get out, just can't handle the new world. Things have changed so much
I believe they want to fit in and keep strides with the public.. It is a very undisciplined society
we live in.. Alcohol is rampant, drugs areeasily found...

Its difficult for the avg inmate to totally away from the places and people that partake.
Reason is its pretty much all over, they have to live in a cocoon. I donot subscribe to
that kind of life style, but I see it often...Go to a ball game, can see it in a ball game on TV...

If sentences were shorter and did more to educate.. But, BUT, the main important ingredient
in all of this is: the desire to stay away from these places and people....and partake in it.

So, if sentences were shorter and classes were offered for those that wanted to learn,
(get no extra time off for the classes) then you know your at least dealing with people that
want to try and better themselves

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Sep 20, 2013 9:50:36 AM

Don't worry, Bill Otis, line prosecutors aren't listening. They all have a reason why the particular def doesn't fit the Holder criteria. And here are facts so you don't accuse me of hyping. Govt recommending 20-year sentence for a non-violent MJ defendant, who may be career offender. (Yes, 20-year sentence is below the 360-life suggested by the career offender guideline). But then the prosecutor opposes sentencing continuance until after scheduled hearing in state court so state court can rule on coram nobis petition that would invalidate a 2-oz distribution prior. Without that one, def would not be career offender. Thankfully judge saw it otherwise. Oh, it's a historical conspiracy so by the time the def was arrested, he hadn't been selling MJ according to Gov't view of things for 2-1/2 years so this isn't about getting an active distributor off the streets.

And to another one of your posts, perhaps if it weren't so difficult to get a job with a felony conviction, fewer would recidivate.

Posted by: Carmen Hernandez | Sep 20, 2013 11:09:00 AM

Carmen --

"Don't worry, Bill Otis, line prosecutors aren't listening. They all have a reason why the particular def doesn't fit the Holder criteria."

Your first sentence contradicts your second. If they weren't listening, they wouldn't know or care about, much less seek exceptions outlined in, the Holder criteria.

"But then the prosecutor opposes sentencing continuance until after scheduled hearing in state court so state court can rule on coram nobis petition that would invalidate a 2-oz distribution prior."

In other words, there was nothing wrong with the state conviction until the defendant -- who kept right on keepin' on -- discovered that it would count against him in sentencing for his latest escapade. At that point, and at that point only, the defendant suddenly realizes it was invalid after all!

My, my, my. Ain't rewriting history grand?

"And to another one of your posts, perhaps if it weren't so difficult to get a job with a felony conviction, fewer would recidivate."

First, people are required to refrain from crime whether or not they have a job. (This is really easy in today's gargantuan, cradle-to-grave welfare state, BTW). Second, any employer outside the loony bin is going to be curious about an applicant's prior work history. If his "work" history includes a felony, is that supposed to be the employer's fault? Third, it's less the prior conviction itself, than the dishonest behavior that led to the conviction, that the employer is worried about.

Do you employ people without checking out their behavior? I sincerely doubt it, but if you do, you're taking a big risk.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 21, 2013 8:56:16 AM

Good effort by Holder. Now I wont hold all the other stuff against him that he has said or done wrong. Such as threatening to prosecute Zimmerman and violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Sep 22, 2013 12:47:45 PM

Liberty1st --

You're right for the wrong reason. A federal prosecution of Zimmerman would be fully permissible under the Constitution. It should not be undertaken (or threatened, for that matter) because the evidence is plainly insufficient. It was insufficient for murder, and it's insufficient for civil rights violations. And if Zimmerman were black, Holder wouldn't even be talking about a federal prosecution; we're hearing about it only because Zimmerman is white.

Isn't that wonderful. Some Justice Department we have here.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2013 6:57:29 PM

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