Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that he would be extending new sentencing guidelines that order prosecutors not to seek mandatory-minimum sentencing for "low-level" drug offenders to individuals currently on trial for such drug offenses. From remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Criminal Justice Issues Forum:
I am pleased to announce today that the Department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt. By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we can better enhance public safety. We can increase our focus on proven strategies for deterrence and rehabilitation. And we can do so while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.
I want to thank all of the Department's hardworking prosecutors and investigators, as well as our state and local partners, who handle these cases on a daily basis – standing on the front lines of our efforts to combat drug crimes and protect our citizens from the devastating effects of drug abuse. Their work is tremendously important, and it is valued. And these policy changes – whose implementation they are leading – will help ensure that their work continues to have the greatest possible positive impact in communities across the country.
An even greater positive impact would come from not treating the ingestion of a substance as a crime in the first place. While avoiding severe sentences for low-level users is a start, legalizing the business of getting high would go much further in lowering the prison population and the criminal justice system's work load.
While today's announcement means the new sentencing guidelines will be applied retroactively to pending cases, there is still no sign the president intends to use his Constitutional pardon powers to lower the sentences of anyone who may have benefited from the sentencing guidelines had they come earlier in Obama and Holder's five years in office.
More Reason on drug sentencing here.