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March 22, 2016

DOJ bragging about Smart on Crime initiative focusing on "more significant drug cases"

Yesterday the Department of Justice issued this official press release titled "New Smart on Crime Data Reveals Federal Prosecutors Are Focused on More Significant Drug Cases and Fewer Mandatory Minimums for Drug Defendants."  Here is how the release gets started:

The Justice Department today revealed new data from its innovative Smart on Crime Initiative that show charging decisions by federal prosecutors in fiscal year 2015 resulted in prosecutors' focusing on more serious drug cases and fewer indictments carrying a mandatory minimum.  Meanwhile, prosecutions of high-level drug defendants have risen and cooperation and plea rates remained effectively the same.

“The promise of Smart on Crime is showing impressive results,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.  “Federal prosecutors are consistently using their discretion to focus our federal resources on the most serious cases and to ensure that we reserve harsh mandatory minimum sentence for the most dangerous offenders.  By ensuring fair and proportional sentencing, these policies engender greater trust in our criminal justice system, save federal resources and make our communities more safe. "

As part of the department’s Smart on Crime Initiative — announced in August 2013 — federal prosecutors were instructed to ensure the department’s finite resources are devoted to the most important law enforcement priorities implicating substantial federal interests and to promote fair enforcement of our laws, especially for low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

Since that announcement, prosecutions of serious drug defendants — such as those involving a weapon or leaders of a conspiracy — have increased, and there has been virtually no change in the rates at which defendants cooperate with the government or plead guilty.  During the same time, the department has seen steady reductions in charges that trigger mandatory minimums and fewer federal drug charges for low-level, non-violent offenders.

Notably, this Politico article reports that not everyone may think these developments represent good news:

Some lawmakers have sounded skeptical that lowering the number of federal drug prosecutions is something the Obama administration should be celebrating.  "I've heard that argument that 'we're always focusing on higher people that's why the numbers are down' for over 25 years. I do not believe that," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month. "

Sessions acknowledged that the federal prisons are saving money as a result of fewer convicts coming their way, but he questioned the wisdom of that approach as heroin use has picked up dramatically across the country.  "The prison population is declining at a rapid rate.  It was 5,000 down last year.  The budget for the prisons is being reduced as a result of a substantial decline in population.  And at the same time, the drug use is surging and death are occurring. And on my opinion, it's going to get worse," Sessions said.

However, Yates said Monday she remains hopeful that Congress will pass criminal justice reform legislation that will give federal prosecutors and judges even more discretion in drug cases.  "At the risk of sounding maybe naïve and overly optimistic, I really believe we have a very good chance of getting sentencing reform because it’s one of the few things out there for which there really is bipartisan support," the deputy attorney general said.  "We have people on both ends of the spectrum that actually agree that this needs to happen, so you got to hope that when you have that, that we can actually bring this over the finish line.”

March 22, 2016 at 06:56 AM | Permalink


Neither Yares or the Doj can distinguish between violent offenders and run of the mill drug offenders.

Its all about filling the Psr as full as they can chuck diddly stuff in. Not too many yrs ago, owi was a vilent felony. If the mandatory sentence for a state chare exceeded 1 yr, thats the definition if a felony.

In Colorado, possesion of Mary Jane exceeded 1 yr, bingo all were violent felonys. I k ow, I know all of this has been backed off. But the system still needs so much done.

Old boys say they need the mandatories fir drugs to catch and beat down terrorist. Great then change the guidelines so they only apply to this imaginary group. Enough said.

All it takes is a Sen like Cotton and Bill Otis and Grassley to hang on to 40 yrs of failure and sell it big.

Flip side is, progress has been made, which is great for defendents.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 22, 2016 8:14:33 AM

The problem is that the seriousness of the offense is dependent on what the prosecutor decides to charge. This frequently depends on the plea agreements of those in the conspiracy. I loved the FBI handbook that encouraged charging conspiracy because it was cheaper and it allowed the Prosecutor to tell the story.

Posted by: beth | Mar 22, 2016 6:12:47 PM

If they are focusing on bigger dealers, then why is Yates's home district still charging penny ante drug cases. A recent example is someone who sold less than a gram of heroin at a time.

Posted by: defendergirl | Mar 24, 2016 9:28:54 AM

In 2009 an African-American defendant was charged in Va. w/ possession with intent to distribute. Now here's the kicker, the prosecution presented no evidence, the narcotics (4 ozs) were found over 75 feet away from the defendant at the time of the arrest, no witnesses, no dna evidence.
The defendant was given 22 yrs, did i also mention that this was also a 1st-time offense? At this point, the family has pretty much exhausted their expectations of finding a fair lawyer to defend the case, it's currently in the appeals phase. any recommendations for a lawyer, who's also supportive of the smart on crime initiative would be greatly appreciated.The trial attorney for the defendant completely abandoned his client during the trial. The case was tried in Chatham, Va.Circuit court.

Best Regards

Posted by: Leslie Bethel | Aug 26, 2016 2:22:08 PM

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