Holder's Mandatory Minimum Announcement Finally Uses Executive Power To Expand Liberty

Eric HolderU.S. GovernmentIn an era when government action increasingly comes as a matter of unilateral executive order — "Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool," former Clinton adviser, Paul Begala, said in reference to the practice — we were overdue for a little imperial overreach that actually made government policy less onerous rather than more so. That's what we seem to be getting in the form of a new policy from the Obama administration, to be formally announced today by Attorney General Eric Holder, to tailor drug prosecutions so that minor offenders are no longer subject to insanely long prison sentences. It's not an end to prohibition, by any means, but it's a step back from some of the worst abuses of the government's jihad against the trade and consumption of some chemicals that make people feel good.

According to an early draft of Holder's remaarks released to Reuters, Holder will tell a gathering of the American Bar Association in San Francisco:

"I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department's charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences."

Holder also reportedly plans to ease of the practice of inserting federal prosecutors, willy-nilly, into local drug cases. State penalties aren't necessarily less draconian than federal ones, but this means many defendants may, depending on how this policy change is implemented, face one trial rather than two for the same acts, and one set of penalties rather than a crushing pile-on.

As for those already serving ludicrously long sentences for drug offenses, Holder will reportedly consider releasing "inmates facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances - and who pose no threat to the public."

Why does this matter? Because federal get-tough chest-beating has gone through hysterical phases, starting in the 1980s, that resulted in long and nonsensical penalties for a variety of crimes. Drug prohibition is a major "beneficiary" of such enhanced and discretion-free sentencing. The chart below was put together by the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation, and covers sentencing under 21 U.S.C., Section 841.

Federal Mandatory Minimum sentencesFamilies Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation

That's not the end of it, unfortunately. FAMM ofers a complete list of mandatory minimum penalties here. The sentences add up, too. A previous conviction or proximity to a firearm can turn a simply life-destroying stay behind bars into something approaching a geological period. More chilling information can be found at the FAMM Website.

Holder's announcement doesn't repeal the laws that established mandatory minimums — it's merely a declaration of executive branch restraint that could be dropped by a future administration. The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, S.619, would give federal judges some leeway to hand down sentences less harsh than those previously mandated by law. Sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, as well as by Sen. Patricky Leahy, with a counterpart in the House, the measure is expected to get a boost from Holder's announcement.

Update: Holder's full remarks are available on the Department of Justice Website here. While wide-ranging and a bit of a grab bag, the speech includes some encouraging elements:

It’s imperative that we maximize our resources by focusing on protecting national security; combating violent crime; fighting against financial fraud; and safeguarding the most vulnerable members of our society.

This means that federal prosecutors cannot – and should not – bring every case or charge every defendant who stands accused of violating federal law.  Some issues are best handled at the state or local level.  And that’s why I have today directed the United States Attorney community to develop specific, locally-tailored guidelines – consistent with our national priorities – for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not. ...

The President and I agree that it’s time to take a pragmatic approach.  And that’s why I am proud to announce today that the Justice Department will take a series of significant actions to recalibrate America’s federal criminal justice system.

We will start by fundamentally rethinking the notion of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes.  Some statutes that mandate inflexible sentences – regardless of the individual conduct at issue in a particular case – reduce the discretion available to prosecutors, judges, and juries.  Because they oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system.  When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety.  They – and some of the enforcement priorities we have set – have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color.  And, applied inappropriately, they are ultimately counterproductive. 

This is why I have today mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.  They now will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.  By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation – while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.  We’ve seen that this approach has bipartisan support in Congress – where a number of leaders, including Senators Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul have introduced what I think is promising legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenders.  Such legislation will ultimately save our country billions of dollars while keeping us safe.  And the President and I look forward to working with members of both parties to refine and advance these proposals.

There is a lot in here to like, in terms of restraining the federal role in criminal law, and also in terms of pushing for more discretion and potentially less draconian punishment of minor transgressions. We'll need to see how, or if, this proves out in terms of actual practice.

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  • Brandybuck||

    Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  • some guy||

    But a slow clock need not be right once in your lifetime.

  • ||

    And an arbitrarily fast clock can be right an arbitrarily large number of times a day. Take that, time!

  • Hugh Akston||

    I'm all for the effects of this policy, but I would much rather see the actual Mandatory Minimum laws repealed. As it stands, we're left at the mercy of the Beneficent High Imperial Obamus Augustus Populi I, who can rescind His gracious mercy if he feels His subjects are not displaying the proper deference and gratitude.

  • daveInAustin||

    Holder is saying that people are being given unjust sentences because of mandatory minimum laws. That means, there are a lot of folks unjustly in federal prison right now. Since our peace laureate / president has the power to release federal prisoners with a pen, why hasn't he done so?

  • Rich M||

    Maybe he's waiting for the last day of his term like Clinton did when he pardoned 140 people.

  • Azathoth!!||

    What it seems to actually be doing is continuing the expansion of executive power.

    Now The One' minions can sentence at will.

    Let's all applaud for liberty!!

  • MJGreen||

    Agreed. It's increasing executive discretion.

    I'm also not sure I'd say it's "expanding liberty," as people will still be jailed for non-violent acts, just not as long as before. That's something, but I'm not sure I'd bring liberty into it.

  • Andrew S.||

    Yep. Chances this is misused/abused to give better sentencing to people they like/punish people they don't like has to be 100%, right?

  • ||

    Holder looks like a stoat. So he essentially is a Frey. Don't get married in his house.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You're using words that make no sense, Epi. Are you having a stroke? Aphasia can be a sign of stroke. Bite down on your wallet and lay on the floor.

  • ||

    Valar morghulis, Hugh.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    I like him better when he's referencing Game of Thrones than when he's referencing True Blood.

  • ||

    Did you know that Bill Compton is a god now?

  • jesse.in.mb||

    No Epi, he's a high prophet acting on behalf of Lilith the founder of the vampire race. She's as much a monotheist as the Jews are. If we can't trust you to get details about True Blood right how are we supposed to trust you with anything.

    BTW I take it your internet is back up?

  • ||

    Nope. I'm at work now. I still have to call and ream out Comcast, for all the good that will do me.

    Also, Eric asked Bill if he was a god now, and that's what I was jokingly referencing. I'm fully aware of the whole Lilith thing.

  • Brett L||

    So Bill has at least seen Ghostbusters. That's good.

  • ||

    I have been assured by Family Guy/i that only wealthy homosexuals watch that show. Glad to see that joke confirmed.

    Seriously, I do NOT get the sudden popularity of necrophilia fiction over the last 10 years.

  • ||

    And I forgot to close the italics tag.

  • Brett L||

    Feminists being aroused by watching women they can imagine as themsevels being ravished by dead white guys?

    Do you really need a map?

  • ||

    JJ fails to understand that sex, drugs, and power make for entertaining television. At the end of the day, True Blood is completely idiotic and retarded. But man, it's fun retarded. Just like JJ's sister.

  • jesse.in.mb||

    Casting Gojira, it's all about casting. Ryan Kwanten, Joe Man-jello and Alexander Skarsgard. Mix in some man-ass and hands-on-tits softcore and you have a winner.

  • ||

    But it's corpses. Sex with dead bodies is not fun or entertaining; it's vomit-inducing. Do they ejaculate maggots?

  • jesse.in.mb||

    Have you read "Snow, Glass, Apples" by any chance? It's a Neil Gaiman short-story retelling of Snow White that I think you'll enjoy.

    They aren't dead-dead. They're undead. It's not like they're fetid zombie corpses (except for in Warm Bodies).

  • ||

    Dead is dead. Just because they aren't rotting, doesn't make it not necrophilia. I can't read Ann Rice or watch shows like True Blood because that's the only thing I can think of.

    Thank you for the suggestion on the short story, I'll check it out.

  • Bryan C||

    Vampires aren't really corpses; they're just running on a very different metabolism.

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    So was the main villain from season 2. Didn't stop her from getting killed.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Epi is at the height of his humourous powers when he references Degrassi Junior High.

  • William of Purple||

    +1 Zit Remedy

  • ||

    I would never reference a Canadian show, Hugh. All my most powerful references are based around 21 Jump Street. Remember the very special episode where the kid had AIDS? I can literally kill a man with references from that episode. Just be glad I am merciful and do not abuse my powers.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    The 21 Jump Street filmed/taped in Vancouver?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I think you just destroyed Episiarch's entire worldview.

  • ||

  • Pro Libertate||


  • ||

    (stares at ProL and NEM)

    "A guy from homicide sent me a dozen roses."

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    From the same link: Location(s) Vancouver, British Columbia

  • ||

    I am guessing someone with a stake in free privatized prison labor (like Wells Fargo) sent in an envelope that was a little light...

  • Brett L||

    Grr. I know you're being sarcastic, but declining to enforce a law in the here and now has nothing to do with liberty.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Cue federal prosecutor revolt in five... four... three...

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Revolt? John has explained how these standards are so vague that a prosecutor with any degree of creativity whatever should be able to get around them.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    So if I'm in a "gang" and have 5 grams of crank, I get the full force of the mandatory sentencing. If I do exactly the same thing, but don't associate with a gang, I don't. Yeah.

  • some guy||

    Without the ability to selectively enforce all that power just becomes another boring job.

  • Rasilio||

    The end result is laudable but once again the approach is dead wrong and shows how little respect for the rule of law the Obama Administration has.

    The simple fact is we DO NOT need or want more prosecutorial discretion, judicial discretion *maybe* but there realistically is no way that they could do this and not run afoul of due process/equal protection constitutional rights.

    Basically the first time they DO list the amount after implementing this and the subject is convicted they have given him an automatic appeal challenging the mandatory minimum laws

  • Hyperion||

    Didn't we talk about this already, today?

    In other news:

    Americans don't really like FATCA

    Unintended consequences, how does it work, bitches?

    Now maybe McCain can get some bipartisan support for his new and improved Berlin wall.

  • Sevo||

    "Holder's Mandatory Minimum Announcement Finally Uses Executive Power To Expand Liberty"

    Until he decides otherwise.
    Thin gruel; change the law.

  • wwhorton||

    Discretion is not a substitute for the protection offered by law or its repeal.

  • Hyperion||

    Obama and Holder have already demonstrated that they don't care much about this law stuff. It just hinders them from being the magnificent supreme leaders that they were destined to be. So they just ignore laws, or enforce them selectively.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'll believe the Campaigner-in-Chief is serious about bad laws when he vetoes one.

  • OldMexican||

    The chart below was put together by the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation, and covers sentencing under 21 U.S.C, Section 841.

    I am without words that can best describe the sense of outrage I am feeling after reading that table. It should open anybody's eyes, unless one is ideologically committed to making man virtuous at the point of a gun.

  • OldMexican||

    Holder's Mandatory Minimum Announcement Finally Uses Executive Power To Expand Liberty

    Yes, IN LIEU of the Rule of Law - Natural Law. Don't open the champange just yet.

  • Dave Krueger||

    Wow, this is bound to be as ground-breaking as their promise not to raid medical marijuana dispensaries.

  • LiberTarHeel||

    Three observations:

    1. Favorable or not, it's still abuse of power

    2. Is it just a slap at Republicans?

    3. Do you believe anything Eric Holder says?

  • PapayaSF||

    I just realized how cynical this administration has made me: I found myself wondering if this had to do with getting campaign donations from big drug dealers. I know, that's probably absurd, but I did wonder for a moment.

  • ||

    Yes, fuck yes, hell the fuck no.

  • John||

    What executive power can give, it can just as easily take away. I think Reason ought to be more concerned about the further abuse of the checks and balances in the system and of the rule of law than they are happy about what, when you read the details, is a pretty meaningless policy that will result in very few people getting lesser sentences.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "They – and some of the enforcement priorities we have set – have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color."

    This seems to clearly suggest that there are people currently in prison who are serving unjust sentences. This in turn means that Obama should get to work and grant some clemency petitions.

    "in their wisdom, the Founding Fathers created their own compassionate release program and put it in the Constitution. It is called the pardon power. Long before prison crowding and tax payers were forking out millions for incarcerations, Alexander Hamilton argued there should be "easy access" to mercy. We will see if any of that logic is reflected in this "major shift.""


    "refine and advance these proposals."

    Yeah, I can't wait to see what improvements the administration has for the Paul bill.

  • bassjoe||

    This is meaningless for a reason nobody here seems to even be close to understanding.

    DoJ policy may have little to no effect on prosecutions undertaken by US Attorney Offices, which possess a large degree of independence from DoJ.

  • Rhino||

    If they can be repealed "stoke of the pen, law of the land," what's to say they can't be reinstated or even made worse "stroke of the pen, law of the land."

    This is still a very bad precedent.

  • Ronald||

    Xavier. I just agree... Maria`s posting is astonishing... last tuesday I bought a great new BMW M3 after having made $7659 this month and just a little over 10/k this past-munth. this is certainly the easiest-work I've had. I started this 7-months ago and straight away startad making over $69, p/h. I use this website, .... http://www.jobs76.com

  • Tyrin Price||

    This article has a false premise and a contradictory headline. A contraction of oppression is NOT an expansion of liberty. Liberty cannot expand through executive power any more than peace can spread through weaponized drones.

  • April06||

    just as Heather said I am shocked that any body can profit $5264 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you seen this page http://www.max47.com

  • April06||

    just as Heather said I am shocked that any body can profit $5264 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you seen this page http://www.max47.com


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