1. First Terrible and Stupid Policy Change – Drug Charging
The New York Times has reported that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has ordered federal criminal prosecutors around the country to charge the most serious “readily provable” criminal offenses in all drug cases they bring. The Times reports that this is the first “major stamp” that Sessions will put on federal law enforcement. For years now drug sentences have been a major and controversial focus of the federal criminal justice system, notably the hot button issue of crack cocaine sentencing. The draconian and racist nature of previous charging policies of the Bush administration and insistence on mandatory minimum sentences in crack cases have been somewhat ameliorated. However, it now appears that the far more enlightened and effective approach of the Obama/Holder era will give way to what could be the worst approach to drug charging decisions and potential jail sentences in the history of our country.
Although some discretion as to what is “readily provable” may give individual Assistant United States Attorneys leeway to be more merciful, it is likely that Sessions and other DOJ leaders will apply serious pressure to be as tough as possible. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer in drug cases who lived through the Bush/Ashcroft era, it is frustrating to see it happen all over again. It likely will be much worse under Sessions, as Ashcroft and Bush at least allowed more discretion to local federal prosecutors in those years than Sessions seems to want to now.
It appears clear that the progress made toward policies that allowed more low-level non-violent drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimum sentences will be washed away. When prosecutors lodge charges which carry long mandatory minimum sentences, judges will once again be forced to hand out years and years of jail time to first offenders, many of whom will be poor, young, and of color.
The United States already inflicts the most and longest jail sentences in drug cases in the world. It has been demonstrated that the deterrent value of long sentences in narcotics cases is low, especially when it comes to poor, low level offenders. While our country does have its fair share of drug problems, longer sentences simply will not effectively address those issues.
2. Second Terrible and Stupid Potential Policy Change – Criminal Immigration Charging
There are serious criminal charges and potential jail sentences for those overwhelmingly poor immigrants who are accused of improper entry, unlawful reentry, and illegally bringing people from other countries into the United States. Currently these sorts of charges are the most often brought charges in the federal system. It appears Mr. Sessions not only wants to see a wall built between our country and Mexico but he wants to lock up more poor, desperate immigrants and keep them in jail for longer and longer periods of time.
Again, this ineffective and ill-conceived policy will not deter border crossing. Throughout the history of our country, people have come to the United States from other lands looking for a better life for themselves and their families. Many are desperate and poor. Many are fleeing persecution. So many of our best citizens, people who do jobs that many would not do, started out coming to our so-called land of the free, without permission to enter. The far more enlightened approach of prior administrations allowed for more individualized treatment than one that would focus primarily and almost solely on prosecution and incarceration.
3. Third Terrible and Stupid Policy Change – Ignoring Business Crime
In all of the pronouncements by AG Sessions about seismic policy changes at DOJ, not once has he mentioned prosecuting white collar or business crime. In fact, he has completely excluded business crimes as a focus of the DOJ. He has instead emphasized enforcement efforts against drug crimes, immigration crimes, and gang related violence. Of course those crimes must be prosecuted, but to devote few resources to going after business crime is simply ludicrous.
Though I have been a defense lawyer for many people charged with insider trading, fraud, and securities crimes, I do realize the tremendous cost to the economy, businesses and citizens which can occur if laws against white collar crimes are not properly enforced. I’m not including this topic because I’m worried about a dip in my business – something tells me there will be plenty of work for my firm to do. We have a very diverse clientele, including those accused of drug crimes and/or violent crimes as well as those accused of business-related crimes.
As experienced and successful as we have been, I have seen up close how economic criminal conduct can create job loss, affect stock prices, consumer costs, health care costs, and so much more. The ripple effects on society of business crimes are enormous. To de-emphasize enforcement of the laws which protect against those crimes will threaten our economy in a major way. Billions of dollars of damage each year occur from a lack of interest in the enforcement of laws against business crime.
These three policy examples are only the tip the iceberg. The Sessions Department of Justice will have negative repercussions on our country for years to come.