Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Back To The 80's

Attorney General To Toughen Rules on Prosecuting Drug Crimes:

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is expected to soon toughen rules on prosecuting drug crimes, according to people familiar with internal deliberations, in what would be a major rollback of Obama-era policies that would put his first big stamp on a Justice Department he has criticized as soft on crime.
Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has been reviewing a pair of memos issued by his predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr., who encouraged federal prosecutors to use their discretion in what criminal charges they filed, particularly when those charges carried mandatory minimum penalties.
The policy under consideration would return the department to the era of George W. Bush. In 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the nation’s prosecutors to bring the most serious charges possible in the vast majority of cases, with limited exceptions. Mr. Sessions could, however, craft his own policy that does not go quite so far; a draft is still being reviewed.
Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who cut his teeth as a young prosecutor in Alabama during the height of the crack epidemic, came to office promising to make being tough on crime a top priority, and his new guidance on charging and sentencing would be the strongest articulation yet of his emphasis on a law-and-order agenda.
Which is why he wants to take the country back to the bad old days...back to the 80's when he was rejected for a federal judgeship "for racism," and then as AG of Alabama when he brought back chain gangs, whipping posts, and life without parole for children under the age of 14 in the 1990's (side bar: all of these things were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hope v. Pelzer as a violation of the 8th amendment, and as a "racist gratuitous infliction of wanton and unnecessary pain"). 
Sonja B. Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in criminal sentencing, said that even if Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions were to return to the policies of the Ashcroft era — instructing prosecutors to pursue the strictest charges and sentences — there might not be drastic changes in how prosecutors handle drug cases.
“There’s still a lot of discretion left to prosecutors to determine what is readily provable,” Ms. Starr said. “Under any regime, whatever the Department of Justice policy, the choice is made by individual prosecutors.”
Still, she said, should Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions push for a uniformly strict posture in prosecuting drug crimes, it would mark a significant shift in tone.
“Many advocates think there are too many mandatory minimums, and that federal charging in general is still too harsh, even after the shift in policy under Holder,” Ms. Starr said. “But this isn’t especially surprising given what we know about the attorney general and the president and their view on criminal justice.”
I love her phrase "under any regime," which is precisely what these folks are turning the Justice Department, and defacto the executive branch, into (see also: the post above). With crime at an all-time, historic, 50 year low, this is nothing but grating political theater that's about 25 years past its expiration date.

In sum, the individual USA's operate with a lot of discretion, and while some may follow these "rules," they are, at the end of the day, merely suggestions and can be ignored wholesale (which they should be).

UPDATE: The Rules
Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions ordered federal prosecutors late Thursday to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations.
The dramatic shift in criminal justice policy, foreshadowed during recent weeks, is Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s first major stamp on the Justice Department, and it telegraphs his priorities to target drug dealing, gun crime and gang violence. The Justice Department released the new directives on Friday.
In an eight-paragraph memo to the nation’s prosecutors, Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions returned to the guidance of President George W. Bush’s administration by calling for more uniform punishments — including mandatory minimum sentences — and directing prosecutors to pursue the strictest possible charges. Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s policy, however, is broader than that of the Bush administration, and will be more reliant on the judgments of United States attorneys and assistant attorneys general.
“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions wrote in the memo, which was distributed late Thursday and emphasized his demand for consistency in federal cases.
Of course, many ADA's will simply ignore it.
Mr. Sklansky, the law professor, said it was unclear how dramatic an impact Mr. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s new policy may have.
“Prosecutors in the field appropriately pay attention to and try to follow the directions they receive from Washington,” he said. “A reversal or replacement of the Holder memo will be interpreted by many prosecutors in the field as a direction to be more aggressive to use mandatory minimum penalties against low-level nonviolent drug offenders.
For those inclined, certainly. But these people being career prosecutors, some will almost definitely ignore it.

While the reaction to this is almost universally derision, eye-rolling, or laugh out loud disbelief, there are a few reactionaries supportively weighing in on these new rules, including my favorite bloggers over at Crime and Consequences, with this gem (emphasis theirs):
It will be attacked by the Left as likely to produce longer sentences.  That's probably so.  However, there is a ready mechanism by which such sentences can be avoided: Mr. Nicey might consider quitting the smack business and getting a normal job like everybody else.  I'm just not a partisan of the notion that it's always the public that has to change. Instead, in both practical and moral senses, we'll be better off when we insist that it's the criminal who has to change.  We don't need less serious charging. We need less crime.
What we need is less stupid, and these rules basically violate that tenet.

Also, taking "Mr. Nicey" out of "the smack business" for 1 year, or 20 years, does nothing to lower crime, because there are a thousand "Mr. Niceys" just waiting to take his place. Whack-a-mole sentencing schemes do nothing to address the larger problems of economics, crime, and opportunity.

But who wants to talk about all that, when "git tuff" is so much easier to understand? Or worse, the only thing you understand?

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