Mandatory Minimums

Watch the Lamest Arguments Against Criminal Justice Reform

Courtesy of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys

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Families Against Mandatory Minimums

At a Washington Post summit on criminal justice Tuesday, one could hear many thoughtful, earnest critiques of how the U.S. administers justice, and how it could be better. Or you could listen to Steve Cook, the head of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

"The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken," Cook, a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Tennessee, told the audience during a panel on sentencing reform. "In fact, it's working exactly as designed."

The NAAUSA has been one of the most vocal groups of prosecutors opposing efforts to roll back federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. It's also a close ally to similarly minded conservative lawmakers in Congress. As I reported on Monday, Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert's office has been circulating talking points and PowerPoint presentations from NAAUSA in an attempt to drum up opposition to a package of criminal justice reform bills expected to reach the House floor this month.

Many critics of the criminal justice system might agree with Cook's first statement, but probably not his follow up assessment.

"In the federal system, less than 1 percent of the individuals incarcerated are there for simple possession," Cook said later in the panel. "Since the mid-80s, we've gone after armed career criminals, kingpins, international drug traffickers, and that's who we're putting in federal prison. That's who the bills in Congress will focus on and reduce sentences for and release from prison."

Cook argued that several pending bills in the Senate and House will "gut" the tools that allowed U.S. Attorneys to prosecute the drug war and allow armed career criminals back on the street. "Beginning in 2015, as a result of the some of the reforms we've seen across the country, we've already seen violent crime spiraling up," Cook warned, citing rising violent crime rates in several major cities. "We're already seeing a reverse of the hard work we've done. The federal prison population has dropped by 11 percent. Federal prosecutions have dropped by 27.4 percent. They're having an impact."

Some of the dangerous "kingpins" who are back on the street are people like Sharanda Jones, who was sentenced to life in prison for a single, first-time, nonviolent drug offense. Because Jones acted as a go-between in a cocaine deal, prosecutors charged her with drug conspiracy, alleged she was the leader of a drug ring, and tacked on several sentencing enhancements that left the judge in her case with no other option but to give her life in prison. Prosecutors also rolled up Jones' family in the conspiracy, including her quadriplegic mother, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison. President Obama granted Jones clemency last year.

One of the other panelists, Kevin Ring, the vice president of the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, described his own experience in federal prison.

"When I went to prison, I saw people that were serving sentences that were completely disproportionate to their crimes," Ring countered. "It's getting tiresome at this point to hear people tell me who's in federal prison because I was there […] I served with a lot of drug dealers, people who Steve's group might characterize as real 'masterminds' because they got caught in a larger conspiracy. They deserved punishment, and they deserved to be held accountable, but they didn't deserve to be there for 10 or 15 years. That wasn't going to make us safer. It was so clear that these guys were rotting and not getting better."

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, another of the panelists at Tuesday's summit and the chair of the House Judiciary that has crafted and advanced 11 of those criminal justice bills this year, also disagreed with Cook's assessment of his legislation, noting that while the Senate bill does not distinguish between violent and nonviolent criminals, the House version does.

"The House bill has been very careful to look at this and make sure we do not allow any sentence reduction for anybody who's in prison for committing a violent crime," Goodlatte responded. "In fact, we enhance sentencing, and for the first time we would allow somebody who was engaged in armed robbery or carjacking and other things to get an enhanced sentence, a higher sentence, if they are arrested for a subsequent drug offense, because I agree that some drug criminal can be violent criminals as well."

(Goodlatte, like Cook, is no fan of President Obama's expansive commutations. His office released a letter Tuesday expressing "deep concern" about Obama's granting of clemency to many individuals who were convicted of possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking offense—one of the enhancements that prosecutors added to Jones' sentence, as well as that of Weldon Angelos.)

As I also reported Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan recently met with criminal justice reform advocates, and he has pledged to get the package of bills to the House floor. Goodlatte said he is "very optimistic," that the bills will pass. "Every sentence in everyone one of the bills has been negotiated," he said.

You can watch a video of the panel here.

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  1. Anyone want to bet that, if you look at Steve Cook’s career as a prosecutor, you’ll find a record of ruined lives with little concern for what tactics it took to win or whether the sentence was justified?

    1. Cook, a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Tennessee

      Do you really need to look any farther than that?

    2. He looks like he’s ready to suck a cock in that picture.Maybe he always looks like that, because he is.

  2. “In fact, it’s working exactly as designed.”

    That’s what worries us, Steve-orino.

      1. Orphaning a comma is a federal offense.

        1. 3 every day. Or more, if you’re having fun.

  3. “left the judge in her case with no other option but to give her life in prison.”

    I object to that way of putting it.

    The judge had the option of resigning. The next judge assigned to the case would have that option, and the next one, and so on.

    Nothing at all forced the judge to impose that sentence.

    1. +1 H. D. Thoreau

    2. What? You expect them to stand up for their principles?

      1. No until they pass minimum-time-to-retire.

      2. What? You expect them to stand up for their have principles?

        1. After they start getting that pension check, of course.

    3. And when every judge who believes the minimums are cruel and unjust resigns, the only ones left will be those who think that the minimums are not sufficient to deter crimes and they will impose even longer sentences.

  4. I just found out that I am going to have to contribute nearly 8% of my salary to a goddamn pension fund I do not qualify for. I am adjunct faculty at a state university. my job is temporary yet I have to contribute a large portion of my meager salary to a pension fund that I will never recieve any money from. Plus they told me that I agreed to this when I was hired. I never signed or agreed to shit. Hell I never even recieved an employee orientation because the secretary for my department is lazy as fuck and the department head is on sabbatical.

    1. Sue them?

    2. Demand to see the employment contract.

      1. Won’t matter. They’ll just take it from the check.

    3. Quit. Fuck’em. Adjunct teaching is like that, “Fuck me? No, fuck you.”

  5. Sort of OT: I was having a conversation with a Progressive friend about police brutality. My friend that the City of Chicago should have a screening process where they can spot the racists and make sure they aren’t hired by the CPD. I retorted that I could care less whether the police officer was racist or not. What does matter is if the officer has the power to abuse me and others without any sort of accountability. I said that in order to get rid of police brutality, we must first get rid of the perverse incentives that makes them into assholes such as the WOD or being the revenue arm of the city government. Basically, taking away their power.

    My Progressive friend was appalled to hear that I wanted to reduce the power that the police and city council’s holds. It never occurs to Progressives that power, especially unaccountable and damn near unlimited power, gives people the perverse incentive to be assholes.

    1. My friend that the City of Chicago should be: My friend said that the City of Chicago……

      1. likes to kill blacks?

    2. Small minded and incompetent people find solace in powerful movements. They rectify their own shortcomings with the grandeur and power of the systems they support.

    3. The only change to this little anecdote I would make is – people *are* assholes. The unaccountability *does not provide* incentives to not be one.

      Look at the internet. A good chunk of it is nothing more than anonymous fuckwads screeching at each other like the opening scene of 2001 (the parts that aren’t pornography or Russian phishing scams that is). But you’re right, *that’s* tolerable because those asshats can’t do anything other than scream.

      1. How dare you talk of taking away their power?!? It’s only bad when it’s held by racists!

        1. Principals, not principles.

    4. “Are you a racist?”

      “Umm, No?”

      “Welcome to the Chicago Police Department!”

      Seriously-what process are they gonna use, target shooting with race-based silhouettes? See which ones the recruits are most likely to shoot?

      1. I like racism,,, er… interracial sex.

    5. Sorry, but your progressive friend, like all leftists, is incapable of reasoned thought. All leftists can do is feel. They can’t think. They see intentions but not results. That is why your friend is focused on racism. Racism means bad intentions. Eliminating people with bad intentions will make all the problems go away. At least that is how your friend feels. If your friend could think, then your friend could understand the corrupting nature of power. But your friend cannot think. Your friend feels that if you put the right people in power, that they will make everything OK. Any attempt to reason with your friend is a waste of time and energy, as well as a potential means of destroying your friendship. Because if you point out how your friend’s good intentions can have bad results, your friend will interpret this as you challenging their good intentions. Only a thinking person can understand how good intentions can have bad results. A feeling person cannot. Keep it up and you will not only lose a friend, but you may also create an enemy.

  6. You know what other leftist had intentions?

    1. All of them.

    2. RTH Paving Company?

      1. Mr. Burns?

  7. As long as the DEA even exists, it will never be working. And the fact that none of these unconstitutional laws even apply to the ruling class makes it even worse.

  8. Of course our criminal justice system needs to be reformed. If someone is sentenced to prison for being a go between in a drug deal and ends up getting more time than a child molester then i would say something is most definitely not right. Its like they are being kidnapped (arrested) and held for ransom(bail)because of a mandatory minimum that was concocted by people who have no idea what that kind of life is like. Why not treat people who buy drugs like they should be treated? With drug counseling,education or other programs designed to help. There is too much of a stigma associated with drugs. There needs to be changes soon. Especially since heroin use is on the rise.

  9. Prosecutors love the power that minimum sentences give them. They can decide what charges to bring and therefore indirectly decide how long someone will spend in prison. Most of all, they can avoid having to deal with sticky things like evidence. Sample:

    “Juan, here’s the deal – plead guilty to one count of XXXX and do 3 years in prison or I’ll charge you with 13 counts of YYYY each of which carries a minimum sentence of 5 years. Your choice is 65 years or 5 years. You have 30 seconds to decide. By the way, your public defender passed the bar two weeks ago and has 15 cases involving 38 felonies. She also has 1/100th of my budget.”

  10. Cook says, “In fact, it’s working exactly as designed.” It may well be and that is an even more frightening thought.

  11. my friend’s aunt makes $82 /hour on the computer . She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her paycheck was $17576 just working on the computer for a few hours. look at this site

    ?????? http://www.businessbay4.com/

  12. People assume that if someone is in prison, they deserve to be there. They don’t realize how “unjust” the system really is — against people of color, the mentally ill, addicts, and the poor. Let me share the story of Lenny Singleton.

    Lenny committed a series of “grab & dash” robberies in one week while high on alcohol & crack. He robbed a total of $550 & no one was murdered or even physically injured. No one claimed to be a “victim.” He did not have a gun. He was a first time felon w/ a college degree who served in our Navy before his addiction. The judge, w/o any explanation, sentenced him to more time than child molesters & murderers – 2 Life Sentences + 100 yrs. He is sentenced to die in prison while murderers will walk free.

    Lenny has been in prison for over 21 yrs. He works every day, lives in the Honor’s Dorm, & takes every class for self-improvement. During his entire time in prison he has never been in trouble for anything – rare for lifers. In his spare time, he has co-authored a book to help others called, “Love Conquers All.”

    To keep Lenny incarcerated for the rest of his life will cost taxpayers well over a million dollars.

    Lenny’s case is possibly one of the worst cases in the country illustrating sentencing disparity. It ran on the front page of The NY Times on July 4th, 2016, http://nyti.ms/29ik8sY

    Please learn more & sign Lenny Singleton’s petition at http://www.justice4lenny.org.

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