If Holder's Mercy Helps 2% of Federal Drug Offenders, It's Still 2,500 Times As Impressive As Obama's

| C-SPAN| C-SPANLast week, as Ed Krayewski noted, Attorney General Eric Holder told federal prosecutors his new charging guidelines for drug offenders should be applied to pending cases as well as new ones. But how many cases are we talking about? How many defendants will escape mandatory minimum sentences as a result of Holder's policy, under which charges will not specify drug amounts when offenders meet certain criteria? About 500 a year, according to an estimate by Paul Hofer, a policy analyst with Federal Public and Community Defenders. That's about 2 percent of the 25,000 or so federal drug offenders sentenced each year and less than 4 percent of the 15,000 sentenced under statutes that specify minimum terms.

Hofer's calculation, which is based on records for fiscal year 2012, excludes defendants who already benefit from sentence reductions because they qualify for the statutory "safety valve" or because prosecutors certify that they have rendered "substantial assistance" to the government. It also excludes defendants who would fail Holder's criteria, which include no supervisory role, no violence or possession of firearms, no sales to minors, no death or serious injury associated with the offense, and fewer than three criminal history points. Hofer notes that one of Holder's criteria—that the defendant "does not have significant ties to large-scale drug trafficking organizations, gangs, or cartels"—is too subjective to be measured by case records. He concludes that "401 defendants in FY2012 would clearly have benefitted if the memo had been in effect and was fully implemented by line prosecutors." He counts another 129 who were sentenced below the range recommended by federal guidelines but still were hit by statutory minimums and therefore might have benefited from Holder's new policy.

Hofer's estimate jibes with the experience of Arizona defense attorney Mark Willimann, who notes that Holder's guidelines allow as many as two criminal history points (CHPs), while the statutory safety valve allows no more than one. For example, Willimann says, "a defendant who gets a DUI and receives a 60-day sentence would get two CHPs. Should he get caught for a drug offense, he would not be eligible for the safety valve." But under Holder's guidelines, he would be, assuming he met the other criteria. Willimann figures "about 50 clients out of the 1,000 I have represented over the last 10 years would have received a hugely discounted sentence given Holder's changed policy, which would have meant, on average, a 36-month shorter sentence," with some defendants getting five years less than they otherwise would. In short, he says, "while the numbers aren't that significant, the benefit an individual gains for qualifying is huge."

One might add that 500 shortened prison terms in one year is 500 times the number Obama has managed in five, even though his commutation power, unlike Holder's prosecutorial discretion, is legally unrestricted. If Holder's mercy helps 2 percent of federal drug offenders, it will still be 2,500 times as impressive as Obama's.

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  • anon||

    Yeah, "less bad" still isn't "good."

    I pray your chains rest lightly on your wrists.

  • sarcasmic||

    Don't you ever, ever, ever trust my mercy

    I managed to see these guys live before they broke up. Good show.

  • ||


    But really, the fact that actual people are dependent on the benevolence of Holder and Obama to be let out of prison for non-violent offenses is pretty awful.

  • Paul.||

    Like slaves on a ship talking about who got the flyest chain...

  • Paul.||

    OT: Employment too high in Seattle. Slowdown needed:

    Seattle mayoral candidate Ed Murray is vowing to press for a $15-an-hour city minimum wage if elected, but says the effort would proceed cautiously and with buy-in from business and labor.

    During a news conference at his Capitol Hill campaign headquarters Tuesday, Murray said the $15 wage should be phased in — starting with ensuring city employees and contractors are paid at least that amount.


  • anon||

    And this is why coming here depresses me.

  • ||

    starting with ensuring city employees and contractors are paid at least that amount.

    The pigs get to eat first.

  • ||

    Look, Seattle is having too much of a boom for some politicians not to come in and try and skim off it, even if that slows the boom down. I mean, isn't that what parasites politicians do?

  • Paul.||

    Again, exhibit A as to why there's never an 'a-ha' moment and people realize that this shit doesn't work, and actually has the opposite effect.

    Because when Big Box stores relocate, the idjut politicians will then play the victim card and say, "We're being held hostage by greedy corporashuns!"

  • Mainer2||

    You mean the ones with cushy do-nothing jobs with big salaries, free benefits, and guaranteed pensions ? Those idjuts ?

  • ||

    The politicians are going to say whatever gets their braindead supporters to come out and vote. The benefits to them of gaining and keeping office far outweigh any detriments they might feel for damage they do to the local economy, so why would they ever care about anything but winning elections? And their braindead supporters are vastly too stupid to connect the politician's policies to effects on the economy, and besides, the politicians have groomed their sheep to be mindlessly partisan, so they'll be defended to the ends of the earth no matter what they do anyway.

  • Paul.||

    But social justice!

  • John||

    The Justice Department's internal watchdog says the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mounted dozens of undercover investigations into illicit cigarette sales without proper approval. It says the agency misused some of $162 million in profits from the stings — including overpaying an informant by millions of dollars — and lost track of at least 420 million cigarettes.


    Just a mistake. Just over zealous agents not filling out the right paperwork. It couldn't be that the ATF has gone into business with the mob. Naw, couldn't be that. There is no way those 420 million cigarettes were sold for a profit by agents and their criminal buddies.

  • anon||

    The Justice Department's internal watchdog says the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mounted dozens of undercover investigations into illicit cigarette sales without proper approval.

    Oh my fucking god, better shut those bastards selling a legal product down, STAT!

  • SweatingGin||

    look, you gotta fund the secret surveillance state somehow. Every agency needs to help out and pull their weight with it.

  • anon||

    I was going to post some witty comment about an obscure federal agency, but just thinking about federal agencies made my head swim.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    and lost track of re-sold at least 420 million cigarettes.


  • PD Scott||

    Are we sure the cigarettes aren't in Mexico now, in hopes of leading law enforcement to tobaccolords?

  • VicRattlehead||

    if you're happy and you know it clank your chains

  • Paul.||


    ...goes the Trolley...

    No homo.

  • Pro Libertate||

    [Holder looks into the mirror and raises his right hand, as if in benediction]: "I pardon you."

  • Paul.||

    But really, asking and receiving forgiveness from one's self is the toughest thing to do.

  • Hugh Akston||

    The first step is admitting that you've done something wrong, which of course neither Obama nor Holder ever have.

  • Pro Libertate||

    To be sure, the part of Eric Holder in my comment was played by Ralph Fiennes.

  • Paul.||

    With Morgan Freeman playing God... as usual?

  • anon||

    Did the latest chrome update break Reasonable?

  • Paul.||

    I think Reason has just broken chrome, or something. Getting super high memory use when Reason pages load. The reason I switched to Chrome was 'cause I got sick of IE doing that. Now Chrome does it. I'm thinking of hiring someone else to just read off the reason comments to me, and I'll dictate my responses.

  • anon||


    You don't have your monocle polishers do it? Or do you not allow them to speak?

  • Paul.||

    Monocle polishers aren't free. They require bunk housing and Cream of Wheat.

  • sarcasmic||

    Firefox with Adblocker works for me.

  • Jordan||

    Chrome + AdBlock + Ghostery here. No issues.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Some people on other pages were saying that handles with email are triggering the reasonable issues.

  • Smilin' Joe Fission||


  • Mainer2||

    This ones for sloopy: even when a cop IS punished, the double standard still prevails.

    Felony hit-and-run charges against fired Manchester officer reduced to misdemeanors


  • Mustakrakish||

    Jacob, your poor attempts to divide by zero are hurting my head. Please stop.


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