Toward the end of his second term, President Obama granted clemency to a record number of non-violent drug offenders, many of whom were sentenced under outdated mandatory minimum laws. Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing an Obama-era policy “that eliminated harsh punishments for low-level drug crimes” for defendants who met certain criteria like not belonging to a cartel or gang.
Sessions’ decision would reverse a decision made by then-Attorney General Eric Holder that instructed prosecutors to avoid charges that trigger mandatory minimum sentences. If adopted, the changes would return the U.S. to the toughest days of the war on drugs, something that organizations like Amnesty International are not thrilled about.
In a statement, Ian Prior, a Justice Department spokesman, said the new policy would be part of the new administration’s goal of charging for all criminal offenses:
Sessions has recently peppered his speeches to law enforcement groups throughout the country with tough-on-crime rhetoric and urged Justice Department lawyers to prosecute more drug and gun cases.
The attorney general is considering having his prosecutors bring the most severe charges against drug traffickers, whether they are low-level defendants or not, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Sessions may also loosen restrictions on prosecutors tacking “enhancements” onto sentences. Under the Controlled Substances Act, anyone facing federal drug, firearm or immigration charges who has a previous felony drug conviction would face stricter sentencing. As a senator, Sessions opposed bipartisan legislation that would have ended mandatory minimum sentences for drug and gun crimes.
Critics of Sessions are not-so-subtly saying this decision might be racially motivated. Former Holder spokesperson Matthew Miller told the Washington Post it “couldn’t be [clearer] who [the Trump administration] cares about and who it doesn’t.”
“If you are addicted to opiates, you’ll get White House attention and increased treatment options,” Miller said. “If you get picked up with crack in your pocket, you’ll get jail time and a mandatory minimum.”
(via Washington Post)