AG Holder Signals Change in "War-On-Drugs" Policy
|AG Eric Holder @ ABA Annual Meeting|
Addressing the ABA's House of Delegates in San Francisco last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a significant shift in federal drug policy that could have an impact on our decades-long "War-on-Drugs". The policy initiative will effectively gut the tough anti-drug sentencing policies that have been a staple of federal legislation for the past quarter century.
Holder indicated that sentencing guidelines would be reduced for non-violent low-level substance abuse offenders. Stringent mandatory minimums would be eliminated.
In making the surprise high-impact announcement, the U.S. Attorney General said, "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason."
Going forward with the new policy, known as the "Smart on Crime" initiative, Holder said that US Attorneys will be exercising their prosecutorial discretion to charge defendants with minor crimes [i.e. possession] better suited to their substance abuse conduct, rather than charging such low-level participants with distribution crimes that carry hefty minimum sentences.
The AG also signaled that his boss, President Obama, will be seeking a legislative initiative that would give federal judges more discretion in their sentences for drug-based crimes. This was very welcome news to the ABA's Criminal Justice Section Chair, Neil Sonnett, who characterized the long-standing federal drug policy as one that features "over-criminalization" and "over-incarceration".
We here at the Law Blogger have seen many a client go "bye-bye" due to these harsh sentencing guidelines, some of which spill over into our state laws. Remember the mandatory drug lifer law debacle of the 1980s?
With the onset of drug courts and sobriety courts over the past decade that feature treatment over incarceration, the criminal justice system here in Michigan has made great strides toward what Holder announced at the federal level.
Hopefully this momentum will continue after Holder's boss leaves office. For the opposing point of view, take a look at Georgetown Law Professor William Otis' editorial in USA Today. Also, here is the NYT's op-ed on the incarceration aspect of this debate; and here is The Economist, calling for "Holder to be Bolder".