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July 5, 2017

"How smart was Obama's 'Smart on Crime' initiative? Not very"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Fox News commentary authored by Lawrence Leiser (president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys), Nathan Catura (president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association), Bob Bushman (president of the National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition), Al Regnery (chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Network), and Ron Hosko (president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund). The piece largely serves as a defense of the new Sessions charging/sentencing policies, and here is the bulk of what this impressive quintet have to say:

Department of Justice policies since the 1980s directed federal prosecutors to charge the most serious readily provable offense, unless justice required otherwise.  It’s undisputed that this charging practice, applied over the course of several Republican and Democratic administrations in recent decades, contributed to the reduction of violent crime by half between 1991 and 2014.

The Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative — touted by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a recent oped in the Washington Post titled “Making America scared again won’t make us safer” — undermined those hard-fought gains in public safety, and ushered in significant increases in violent crime.  In 2015, violent crime rose 5.6 percent — the greatest increase since 1991 — and included a shocking 10.8 percent increase in homicide rates.  And, although the final numbers for 2016 have not been published, the preliminary data suggests another substantial increase in the violent crime rate.

Among the policies championed by then Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General Yates was one that reversed long-standing charging policies and directed federal prosecutors to avoid minimum sentences against drug traffickers, as mandated by Congress, and instead pursue lesser charges.  Despite the well-known and deadly violence associated with drug cartels, gangs and their networks, the Holder-Yates policies directed federal prosecutors in certain cases to under-charge drug trafficking cases and avoid triggering statutory minimum penalties by not pressing charges on the actual amount of drugs that traffickers distributed, such as heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Changes in federal law enforcement policy can ripple through communities across the country and affect their safety.  “Smart on Crime” was part of a larger policy shift within the Obama administration from drug abstinence and accountability to drug acceptance and victimization.  Since its inception, correlative increases in drug abuse, overdose deaths and violent crime have had a devastating impact on every community, regardless of sex or demographics.  The reduced charging and sentencing of thousands of drug traffickers and their early release from prison — all hallmarks of the Holder-Yates policies of the Obama years — have begun to leave their devastating mark downstream on the safety of communities across the nation.  The surge in violent crime should not be surprising.  Drug trafficking by its very nature, is a violent crime.

Take the recent account of Michael Bell, a former federally-convicted methamphetamine dealer who, when facing new state charges in Tennessee for kidnapping and domestic assault, shot two sheriff’s deputies during a court proceeding.  Bell would have still been in federal prison had he not been released in 2015, three years earlier than scheduled, because of the across-the-board sentencing reductions prior administration leaders pushed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to impose.

Not surprisingly, those former officials continue to use the term “low level, non-violent offender” to promote a sanitized narrative of drug trafficking for profit.  Law enforcement professionals know that drug trafficking enterprises are comprised of integrated networks of street corner dealers, mid-level traffickers, distributors, producers and cartel leaders, whose collective efforts inherently rely on violence and have contributed to the deaths of over 50,000 Americans last year in drug overdoses alone.

Despite the evocative “second chance” narrative that stirs support among sentencing reformers, law enforcement professionals also know that the people who end up in federal prison work hard to get there.  Few offenders go to prison for their first offense, or even the second or third.  Many of the people who end up in federal prison have committed violent crimes, are members of drug trafficking and criminal organizations or simply have chosen to continue to disregard our laws. Because the majority of criminals admit their guilt, plea bargaining involves the dismissal or reduction of related charges, which greatly reduces the criminal histories and sentences of countless criminals. That means the numbers and types of crimes for which many of them are arrested, but never charged or convicted, are incalculable.  Criminals are committing thousands of crimes and violent acts against our citizens for which they are never held accountable.

Seeking justice and keeping the peace, it is federal law enforcement agencies and their state and local partners who will strive to enforce the laws that Congress enacted to protect our country and its citizens.  The surest way to preserve public safety is to honor the laws the people have passed and to enforce them to the fullest.

July 5, 2017 at 05:40 PM | Permalink


What a crock. Follow the money.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jul 5, 2017 6:51:16 PM

@Fat Bastard follows himself as he follows the money which raises the ancient philosophical question: Quis sheeple ipsos sheeples (who shall follow the followers)?

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 5, 2017 7:03:49 PM

Sessions gas hired an additional 20 ATF agents and several AUA to curb the crime in Chicago.

They shot in excess of 100 people over the 4th weekend.

jeffy my boy, hows this getting tough on crime working for ya.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 5, 2017 7:14:04 PM

"The surest way to preserve public safety is to honor the laws the people have passed and to enforce them to the fullest."

Zero tolerance or what? Good luck with the resources available.

Doesn't sound very smart. The rise in crime numbers warrants context and small print to discuss the details. That is, if one is smart. So, again, not very impressive. In an overall good way, at least.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 5, 2017 7:56:00 PM

Ah, Joe and his twittery . . . .

Instead of looking critically at what the author has to say, Joe seizes on a bit of puffery and sniffs that they aren't that smart. In actuality, the authors level devastating criticisms of Obama's policies.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 5, 2017 8:16:45 PM

No, the authors merely know which side of their bread is buttered. AUSAs don't want to actually have to try a case, so they want the "life plus cancer" sentencing option so that even factually innocent defendants will cut their losses and plead out to a lesser or with a cap. The cops, same difference. Cops love to bang the drum about high crime and job security; where else can 60 hours of community college education (or less) get you such a swell gig, with decent pay, a gun, badge and everything.

Posted by: Mark M. | Jul 5, 2017 10:05:10 PM

Mark, you are a buffoon---no one doubts that in the justice system that there are some cases of appalling injustice visited on people--but the reality, and surely you know this, is that those cases, particularly in the federal system are few and far between. What the amoral prig who has Secret Service protection for himself and his kids did was mouth a few platitudes that pass as wisdom to justify the wholesale release of some serious criminals. Yeah, some will have learned their lesson and never commit another serious crime again--many others will go back to their violent ways.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2017 1:50:30 AM

Lawrence Leiser and this guy, are they the same asshole?


I call for an investigation into the above organizations. First, they are collectively responsible for the utter failure of the criminal law to protect anybody. They are the ones slurping coffee, all day, and chatting up the secretaries, worthless, make work government workers. Trump should drain the swamp, and fire these fools, "You're fired."

I also demand to trace the funding of these organizations. I want to know if they are fully funded by drug cartels, to protect their high prices and monopoly powers.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 6, 2017 2:16:56 AM

When you have the perception (reality) that the State cares nothing for you then it is unsurprising that some become disconnected from it - its values and aspirations. A society based on Self is inevitably selfish. A society based on Exclusivity is inevitably exclusive. Not everyone who fails membership has done so by choice.
"We know that we've truly become just a warehouse for inmates in Oklahoma. We don't really offer them any programs to rehabilitate them. We barely staff our facilities. Our facilities are crumbling and falling apart," said Sean Wallace, policy director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and the former head of a group that represented prison workers. "I doubt there's one person in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections who is very surprised that we rank high in the number of inmates who died in our prisons."

Posted by: peter | Jul 6, 2017 5:10:35 AM

They base their argument on 1) a couple of correlations with zero evidence of causation, 2) a single anecdote, and 3) a whole lot of bluster. These are smart people, and this is the best they can do. I guess we should thank them for underlining the weakness of their position.

Posted by: Stephen Hardwick | Jul 6, 2017 8:00:36 AM

Stephen, in other threads here, it has been pointed out that the Obama Administration dropped the prosecution of gun criminals significantly--that, I am sure, exerted plenty of upward pressure on gun violence plaguing cities like Chicago---couple that with Obama's coy support of the smearing of Darren Wilson, you can see the ideology-driven soft on crime policies. Is there proof that Obama's policies have led to increased crime--well, yes and no--there are anecdotes, and but there is no iron-clad proof--what we do have is years of experience in how criminals behave--most criminals are criminals--it's what they do. Thus, when they are taken off the street, the future crimes that many would commit are simply not committed.

And this Stephen is on top of three murders in Columbus by one of these early releases. Heck, even some of Obama's clemency grantees have gotten back in the game, so to speak.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2017 8:38:49 AM

Release of "serious" criminals, huh? I see on a daily basis what kind of "serious" criminals the Feds shackle up. I, for one, don't give a flying f*** about a bs conspiracy to distribute whatever where the bs relevant conduct leads to a base offense level of thirty effing eight due to make-believe quantities mentioned by the junkie in the next cell. The truth is, the alphabet soup of fed law enforcement is doing not thing more than waging war on Americans under the guise of protecting us us from the "scourge" of street drugs. This "protection" is many times worse than whatever is on the other side. I just saw a mother of two very young children get 265 months, because she sold meth to support her habit. That's just yesterday's story, there's another just like it coming today to a fed courthouse near you. I don't call that "justice," and I'm not the only one. Nothing good comes to pass when "We the People" develop a belief that the justice system no longer dispenses justice. So, who's the buffoon, now?

Posted by: Mark M. | Jul 6, 2017 8:50:07 AM

Fine Mark--publicize those cases--the meth-dealing mom who only dealt to support her habit . . . . but don't tell me that her story (if it is as you opine) is really emblematic of the federal prison population. Let's take drug mules crossing the border--should I feel upset that one of them gets 245 months in prison? Nope. I don't.

If you read what I post here (instead of caricaturing it), you'll note that I loathe government overreach probably as much as you do. But you lose all credibility when you fail to decry, for example, the outright smearing of Darren Wilson or fail to understand that many drug-dealers use violence or have a violent history.

What pray tell is your view of how we should punish pimps--particularly those who traffic in underage girls? What is your view of what we should do to an alien who is deported for some drug offense or something like burglary and then is found in the US after deportation? What is your view of the violence plaguing Chicago?

I am curious--have you read my posts on clemency? I have consistently assumed that Obama's clemencies were justified absent evidence to the contrary and have advocated a wait and see approach. I have criticized Obama's sophistry when it comes to justifying them--I find it unseemly, but the proof is in the pudding so to speak. A few have re-offended so far, but I continue to hope that those who have received his mercy will justify it by being productive citizens.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2017 9:56:31 AM

Opiate drugs kill a lot of people. Those drugs are made by legit drug companies. Many of the drugs used which kill were prescribed by doctors. Prosecute the doctors.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jul 6, 2017 10:20:16 AM

Regarding drug overdose "victims". Do not "save them". Let em die.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jul 6, 2017 10:21:07 AM

"265 months, because she sold meth to support her habit."

Somehow, methinks there's more to the story.

Posted by: justme | Jul 6, 2017 10:53:26 AM

I "critically" cited a couple things. Perhaps, if I called them "buffoons" it would be better. When I go into more detail, it's some other problem. My continual inability to have porridge just right for federalist troubles me dearly.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 6, 2017 1:13:20 PM

I love the image of federalist as Goldilocks (or as one of the Three Bears), Joe.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 6, 2017 1:37:23 PM

The feds over reach a lot on drug cases. This class of people are easy targets. Pretty messed up when arrested, no resources, usually relatives are at wits end, they are threatened with long sentences if they dont plead guilty. The 3 level drop for taking the guilty plea, normally gets it done. The perfect storm us going to trial for drugs against the feds.

Signing your life away.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 6, 2017 5:36:07 PM

Joe, you seized on some puffery, not the underlying factual criticisms---it's a shopworn tactic and weak beyond words.

The problem, Joe, is that, quite bluntly, you are an ankle-biter.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 6, 2017 6:58:37 PM

Arf arf.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 6, 2017 10:09:27 PM

Sorry. Saw a squirrel.

Joe, you seized on some puffery, not the underlying factual criticisms---it's a shopworn tactic and weak beyond words.

The problem, Joe, is that, quite bluntly, you are an ankle-biter.

The "underlining factual criticism" is that the crime data has to be seen in a nuanced way & this has been addressed in depth repeatedly. There is also general arguments, which is repeatedly what one critiques, like "enforce them to the fullest" that I addressed. Again, if I went into more detail, the porridge would probably not be right for you.

Maybe, I need more potshots (as compared to a dig based on the title of the blog post; that is where the "smart" came in), about "puffery," "shopworn," things "beyond words" and comparing arguments to small dogs nipping at ankles. Does that help with factual arguments? Sounds more like a small dog, but you know, I'm open to ideas.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 6, 2017 10:22:14 PM

Justme, the "more" to the story is the nature of federal conspiracy charges and their interplay with relevant conduct for sentencing. The mom was attributed with the drug weight that other conspirators claimed she had handled; nothing more. Such is close enough for government work when it comes to sentencing in fed court. "I saw Mrs. X with a quarter ounce sometime in the summer of 2014" is a near-quote from the presentence report. How do you prove a negative is only one question raised by such garbage. The drug weight from such nonsense goes up quickly when the junkies start racing to debrief.

Posted by: Mark M. | Jul 7, 2017 9:37:35 PM

@Mark M - I concur.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 7, 2017 10:12:44 PM

Thank you Mark M

Federal Conspiracy charges lurk underneath the swamp. When they began to amp up the charge - the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 1994 said that conspiracy charges should be used for "budget conscious agencies" and of course "the offense does not depend on whether the subjects accomplished the conspiracy's objective - selling drugs

The same bulletin also said that law enforcement should work with prosecutors before they begin the investigation (read sting) so that together they an formulate a plan of attack.

"Prosecutors can tell law enforcement if judges will be receptive to conspiracy trials that lack drug evidence."

Posted by: beth | Jul 8, 2017 4:06:56 PM

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