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May 13, 2014

Another notable letter expressing opposition to SSA ... on US Senate letterhead

As noted here in this prior post, Bill Otis at Crime & Consequences broke the news yesterday that a significant number of significant former federal prosecutors signed on to a public letter to Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to express publicly their opposition to any reform of federal drug mandatory minimums.   This morning I discovered that late yesterday Bill Otis put up here at C&C more notable news about opposition to drug sentencng form:  apparently this week, Senators "Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions [have written] an all-colleagues letter explaining why the Smarter Sentencing Act should be defeated." 

(Side note: I use the term "apparently" concerning the report from Bill Otis regarding this letter because his reprinting of the letter at C&C here includes only the contents of the letter without any date or reprinted signatures.  In addition, Bill provide no link to the actual letter in any form, nor can I find any public resource or news media reporting on this letter.  Also, and a check/search of the official websites of the US Senate and of Senators Grassley and Cornyn and Sessions so far has produced no copy of the letter.   I assume this letter really exists, and I hope to be able to provide a link to an official public release of this letter shortly.  But I am finding it now more than a bit peculiar and troublesome that Bill Otis and Crime & Consequences has seemingly become the (un)official reporter of official opposition to the Smarter Sentencing Act.   These developments reinforce my fear that Bill Otis and perhaps some other unnamed lobbyists and partisans are playing a very significant and cloistered role in seeking to derail any new federal sentencing reforms in Congress.)

Notably, the substance of the letter reprinted at C&C echoes a lot of the themes that have been stressed by opponents of any federal sentencing reform, and it restates some of the points forcefully stated by Senator Grassley in this Senate floor speech last month.  But the letter is now the strongest collection of many of the strongest arguments against some (but not all) of the provisions of the Smarter Sentencing Act.  I recommend everyone read the letter, and I hope to be able to provide a link to a copy of the actual document from an official source before too long.

Some prior posts about the SSA and debates over federal sentencing reform:

UPDATE:  I am pleased and grateful that I was able to receive from a helpful reader a pdf copy of the original letter sent by the Senators referenced in this post and reprinted originally at C&C.   Minus the footnotes, here are the first two paragraphs of the letter followed by a downloadable copy:

The nation is in the midst of an historic heroin epidemic that is wreaking havoc in cities and towns from New England to the Pacific Northwest. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the amount of heroin seized at the southwest border has increased nearly 300% from 2008 to 2013, while heroin-overdose deaths have increased by 45%. At the same time, approximately 4.3 million people abuse or are dependent on marijuana. In 2012, almost 32 million people ages 12 and older reported using marijuana within the past year and, in 2013, one out of every 15 high school seniors reported being a near daily user. According to the 2013 National Survey Results on Drug Use, 50% of high school seniors reported having used illegal drugs at some point in their lives.

It is against this grim backdrop that we write to express our concerns with S. 1410, the "Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014," which would benefit some of the most serious and dangerous offenders in the federal system by cutting in half (or more) mandatory minimum sentences for high-level drug trafficking offenses. The proponents of S. 1410 claim that it will reduce sentences for so-called "low-level, non-violent" drug offenders. These terms, as well as the bill's claimed effect, are highly misleading. In fact, nothing in this bill will affect the lowest level federal drug offenders at all.

Download Senators letter to Colleagues on SSA

May 13, 2014 at 12:04 PM | Permalink


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Those are lawyers protecting turf. I have no preference in reliance on either judge or prosecutor for the balance of powers of sentencing. The judge is likely brighter and more experienced. The prosecutor and the judge are both dependent on the criminal for their jobs, and will make sure he is fully protected from getting killed by the public. They will both crush public self help. So we, the public, are the ants, and we are watching two scorpions fight each other over their ant meal.

One empirical fact is that crime dropped when guidelines were mandatory and prosecutors ran the system. Although the stats are cooked and do not show it yet, the discretions given to judges have made crime rates jump up. No matter what the lying statistics say, we have been less safe the past five years.We did this in the 1980's. We are doing the same today, with the same outcomes, rampant criminality, rampant make work job generation for lawyers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 13, 2014 12:28:18 PM

I don't know the bottom line answer statistically to the first comment but like the argument in a recent Atlantic article on the value of stop/frisk, do note that just because something works doesn't necessarily make it constitutional. And, "safety" is an open-ended concept. Judicial power might make us "unsafe" in some ways, but safer in others. Anyway, those three senators' comments are not that surprising given their ideology. Be useful to get a more representative view of things from that caucus.

Posted by: Joe | May 13, 2014 4:09:54 PM

I don't give a r-t's behind what Grassley says or thinks. Since he is capable of telling great lies to the tune of billions of dollars wrt. ethanol subsidies as part of the solution to the "energy problem", he can and does lie on most anything!!

This is a case where a great majority of his "constituents" only care about maintaining high corn prices and couldn't care less about the rest of America.

Posted by: albeed | May 13, 2014 4:29:36 PM

How much longer must this miserable war on drugs persist?

Posted by: Phil Jensen | May 13, 2014 5:43:37 PM

My take of the letter contents....create more drug rampant hysteria to put more people in prison rather than using that taxpayer money to invest in remedial alternative approaches that will deal with the underlying causes and resulting affects of drug addiction.

Posted by: Randy | May 13, 2014 6:03:29 PM

If the drug war works, then why the sky falling down epidemic rant? Doesn't that argue for change instead?

Posted by: george | May 13, 2014 6:09:26 PM

It sounds like a desperate act on the part of past and present government employees to justify their life's work and maintain jobs, pensions and dignity.

There is so much support for ending the metaphore of war when dealing with the public health aspects of drugs. Do we really want law enforcement and prosecutors to be in charge of medical problems. More and more the answer is no.

There have been too many mistakes made that resulted in enormous cost - financial, civil, justice etc. I feel one of the most egregious is the violence against and disrespect of citizens by those hired to protect them.

A different way is being advocated everywhere. US News, NYT, WP, the Wall Street Journal, and many more right and left. Today Rob Portman gave a speach deploring the the failed policy that has lead to over incarceration. Perhaps he is fulfilling a needed role for the mainstream of his party.

Posted by: beth | May 13, 2014 11:05:22 PM

If, after thirty plus years of fighting a "war" using one particular tactic, and you're still in the midst of an epidemic, wouldn't you agree that -- maybe -- your tactic isn't working so well for you?

I understand and agree that heroin is on the uptick right now, but these mandatory minimums have all been in place even as heroin experienced its resurgence. Surely the answer is not yet greater mandatory minimum sentences? What does a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty years accomplish that one of twenty does not? We already incarcerate more people in this country for longer than any other civilized nation on the planet, and yet we still face an epidemic of drug trafficking and abuse.

Not to say that I have any of the answers, but shouldn't it seem to any reasonable observer that the way we still insist on going about things is clearly not working?

Posted by: Guy Hamilton-Smith | May 13, 2014 11:32:16 PM

I rarely agree with anything Otis has to say, and he is a partisan political animal to the core, but I don't really understand why you are so dismayed that a partisan, patently political website would partner with politicians to advocate for a political position. That is like Capt. Renault being shocked! to find gambling going on at Rick's Cafe.

newsflash: "unnamed lobbyists and partisans are playing a very significant and cloistered role in seeking to derail" and/or secure passage of almost every bill of any consequence in Congress and all of the state legislatures, not to mention most city councils of any size/importance...

Posted by: BB | May 16, 2014 2:25:22 PM

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