Tag: Drug sentences

Attorney General Sessions Tells Prosecutors To Kill Drug Dealers

On March 21, United States Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions issued a short Memo to U.S. Attorneys on the Use of Capital Punishment in Drug-Related Prosecutions. The full text of the memo states:

The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering, and death on communities throughout our nation. Drug overdoses, including overdoses caused by the lethal substance fentanyl and its analogues, killed more than 64,000 Americans in 2016 and now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In the face of all of this death, we cannot continue with business as usual.

Drug traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and violent street gangs all contribute substantially to this scourge. To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal. This includes designating an opioid coordinator in every district, fully utilizing the data analysis of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, as well as using criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for unlawful practices.

In addition, this should also include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases. Congress has passed several statutes that provide the Department with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes. Among these are statutes that punish certain racketeering activities (18 U.S.C. § 1959); the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime (18 U.S.C. § 924(j)); murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise (21 U.S.C. § 848(e)); and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs (18 U.S.C. § 3591(b)(1)). I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation.

Seeking the federal death penalty against drug traffickers in “appropriate cases” where a death results would not be new.  Of the 61 federal defendants on death row, more than a dozen of them committed drug related offenses resulting in death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  Indeed, one of the three federal inmates executed in the modern era was Juan Garza, a marijuana distributer who was executed in 2001 for the murder of three other drug traffickers in Texas.

But seeking the death penalty for non-homicide drug trafficking offenses would be new and raise constitutional issues.  See, e.g., Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, as modified (Oct. 1, 2008), opinion modified on denial of reh’g, 554 U.S. 945 (2008) (holding the Eighth Amendment prohibits the death penalty for the rape of a child where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in death of the victim); id. at 44 –47 (“The rule of evolving standards of decency with specific marks on the way to full progress and mature judgment means that resort to the penalty must be reserved for the worst of crimes and limited in its instances of application. In most cases justice is not better served by terminating the life of the perpetrator rather than confining him and preserving the possibility that he and the system will find ways to allow him to understand the enormity of his offense. Difficulties in administering the penalty to ensure against its arbitrary and capricious application require adherence to a rule reserving its use, at this stage of evolving standards and in cases of crimes against individuals, for crimes that take the life of the victim.”).

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Sentencing Commission Releases 2017 Federal Crime Statistics

Last week the United States Sentencing Commission released its 2017 Annual Report and 2017 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing. FY2017 encompasses the federal government’s fiscal year October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017 and includes data on sentencings occurring during this period and reported to the Commission before February 14, 2018.  Together the Report and Sourcebook represent the annual report required by 28 U.S.C. § 997, as well as analysis, recommendations, and accounting referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 994(w)(3).

The 2017 Annual Report provides information on the Commission’s activities, such as conducting research, collecting and reporting sentencing data, sentencing policy development (i.e., guideline amendments), and training and outreach.

The 273-page 2017 Sourcebook contains sentencing statistics on a wide range of variables—such as length of sentences and adjustments for various primary offenses—in each federal judicial circuit and district, reflected in tables, figures, and pie charts.  The information in the Sourcebook is also available in the Commission’s online resource Interactive Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. The data in the interactive sourcebook can be tailored to any district or group of districts.  Here are some highlights from the Sourcebook data:

  • In FY 2017, the courts reported 66,873 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases to the Commission. This represents a decrease of 869 cases from the prior fiscal year.
  • The race of federal offenders remained largely unchanged from prior years. In FY 2017, 53.2 percent of all offenders were Hispanic, 21.5 percent were White, 21.1 percent were Black, and 4.2 percent were of another race. Non-U.S. citizens accounted for 40.7 percent of all offenders.
  • Drug cases accounted for the largest single group of offenses in FY 2017, comprising 30.8 percent of all reported cases. Cases involving immigration, firearms, and fraud were the next most common types of offenses after drug cases. Together these four types of offenses accounted for 82.4 percent of all cases reported to the Commission in FY 2017.
  • Among drug cases, offenses involving methamphetamine were most common, accounting for 34.6 percent of all drug cases.
  • Drug sentences remained relatively stable across all drug types in fiscal year 2017. The average length of imprisonment increased slightly from FY 2016 in cases involving methamphetamines, from 90 months to 91 months, and also in marijuana cases, from 28 months to 29 months. In fiscal year 2017, 44.2 percent of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

 

Study Reveals No Relationship Between Prison Terms For Drug Offenses And Rates Of Drug Use, Arrests, Or Overdose Deaths

The PEW Charitable Trusts issued a brief, earlier this month,  reporting on the relationship between prison terms and the reduction in rates of drug use, arrests, and overdose deaths.

The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests. “In other words, higher rates of drug imprisonment did not translate into lower rates of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths.” The PEW study also revealed that in states that had revised their drug penalties, prison populations had been reduced without an increase in crime rates.

Additionally, in South Carolina, after the state expanded probation and parole opportunities for people convicted of drug offenses, the prison population decreased by 14 percent, a larger proportion of the state’s inmates were convicted of violent offenses, and the violent crime rate dropped by 16 percent between 2010 and 2015.

The brief concluded that research revealed that “some strategies for reducing drug use and crime are more effective than others and that imprisonment ranks near the bottom of the list.”

Crime Rate Falls In 2017

A year-end analysis of by the Brennan Center for Justice, titled Crime in 2017: Updated Analysis, directly undercuts any claims that there is a nationwide crime wave.  According to the report, “[a]ll measures of crime in the 30 largest American cities—the overall crime rate, violent crime rate, and murder rate—are estimated to decline in 2017,” although there are some cities where violence has increased, like Chicago and Charlotte.   Here are some key findings of the Brennan Center’s analysis:

  • The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 is estimated to decline slightly from 2016, falling by 2.7 percent.
  • The violent crime rate will also decrease slightly, by 1.1 percent, essentially remaining stable.
  • The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by 5.6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago (down 11.9 percent) and Detroit (down 9.8 percent), as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. New York City’s murder rate will also decline again, to 3.3 killings per 100,000 people.
  • Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Charlotte (54.6 percent) and Baltimore (11.3 percent).

Federal Civil Rights Commission Supports Bipartisan Sentencing Reform Bill

On October 13, 2017, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a Statement supporting certain provisions in the Senate’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017.  The bill proposes to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenses, restore judicial discretion in sentencing in more cases, move sentencing levels down in many cases so that low-level crimes are adequately but not excessively punished, and make retroactive sentencing reductions in crimes involving crack cocaine prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.  U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said,

The sentencing reduction provisions in this legislation are necessary to hew closer  to the fair administration of justice in our country, and ensure that the criminal justice system does not more harshly judge marginalized communities without basis. I urge Congress to take swift action to correct these injustices.

Established in 1957 by the Civil Rights Act, the Commission on Civil Rights is the only independent, bipartisan federal agency charged with advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing an annual federal civil rights enforcement report.