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Sessions 'Strongly Encourages' Federal Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty for Some Drug Dealers

The Trump administration starts negotiations on drug sentencing with a harsh opening bid.

Kevin Dietsch/CNP / Polaris/NewscomKevin Dietsch/CNP / Polaris/NewscomAttorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty "when appropriate" in order to combat the opioid crisis, in a March 20 memo first obtained by NBC. The instructions came a day after President Donald Trump called for capital punishment for some drug offenders.

To combat the opioid crisis, Sessions writes, "federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal," such as working with the Department of Justice Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and bringing civil and criminal actions against opioid makers and distributors. U.S. Attorneys should also seek the death penalty when the law allows:

Sessions memo, obtained by NBCSessions memo, obtained by NBC

Federal prosecutors have been allowed to seek the death penalty for certain drug offenses since 1994, Politico reports, thanks to a law signed by President Bill Clinton. Yet Politico also reports that no prosecutor has sought death for a federal drug offense in the 24 years since then, and civil liberties groups argued after Trump's speech on Monday that the Supreme Court has ruled against using the death penalty in cases where the defendant did not commit murder.

But that makes it a strategically brilliant policy for Sessions and Trump to endorse. Trump said Monday that most big drug dealers do only 30 days or a year in jail (which is not true), and Sessions wants longer sentences for drug offenses, propped up with mandatory minimums. Between the two of them, something like a 15- or 20-year mandatory minimum for importing or dealing illicit fentanyl would probably hit the spot. That would be unlikely to pass the Senate as an opening offer, but it looks a lot more generous when you compare it to executing people. Never mind that the statutes Sessions cites aren't all that relevant to the opioid debate, which involves more online activity and accidental overdoses than it does armed scuffles over drug turf.

Seeking the death penalty under existing laws, meanwhile, could still net life and de facto life sentences.

By throwing fuel on the fire Trump started, Sessions is priming the chattering class and the media to see single and multi-decade sentences as a humane alternative to execution. Those sentences are more humane, but only when compared to capital punishment. Trump and Sessions have rapidly and unapologetically shifted the Overton Window on drug penalties. With the most barbaric option on the table, punishments that are simply cruel and excessive are destined to seem more tolerable.

You can read Sessions' entire memo after the jump.

Full Sessions memo, obtained by NBCFull Sessions memo, obtained by NBC

Photo Credit: Kevin Dietsch/CNP / Polaris/Newscom

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Jeff Sessions, full of new ideas.

  • MichaelL||

    Expecting different results from the same actions?! INSANITY! We need some smart people in charge!

  • MSimon||

    The purpose of more draconian laws is to increase gang and cartel profits.

    The risk premium goes up.

  • bifmozart||

    since Nixon's drug war in 1970, heroin has been cheaper, more abundant, purer, and there is always someone new to expand the availability.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Well, not really.

    Seems like Sessions, the dreadful wanker that he is, is only responding to what Bill Clinton started:

    " Federal prosecutors have been allowed to seek the death penalty for certain drug offenses since 1994, Politico reports, thanks to a law signed by President Bill Clinton."

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    But still... waaay better than Obama.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Obama wasn't a very good attorney General.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Do you mean "better" in the sense that Stalin socialism was "better" than Hitler socialism?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    And by 'some drug dealers,' Sessions means the brown and black ones.

    Carry on, clingers. So far as your lousy educations, bigoted souls, and downscale right-wing authoritarianism can carry anyone, I guess.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Just think of all the additional black and brown people we could lock up if we had stricter gun control laws.

  • Bongo Supreme||

    Are you senile? You recognize that this article is critical of Sessions, right?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The article appears to be written from a libertarian perspective, which would inline it to be critical of Attorney General Sessions, who tends toward right-wing authoritarianism.

  • Edward Bellamy||

    "which would inline it "

    Apparently your education didn't include spelling or proofreading.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You seem cranky, Ed.

    All of this damned progress, science, tolerance, education, and reason getting you down?

  • Headache||

    Yeah, that 1994 law, democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the Presidency. Those bastard right-wingers!

  • Tony||

    Refreshing to see Sessions get a little time to pursue his own hobbies in the midst of trying not to get fired.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This may actually part of his attempts at keeping his job.

  • Tony||

    Oh yeah Trump did say this. I wonder who fed him the idea. Sessions himself or some foreign dictator thug bestie?

  • VinniUSMC||

    Or maybe the right wing thug that signed the 1994 law? Oh, wait, that was Bill Clinton.

  • bifmozart||

    in the late 1990's Jeff wanted death penalty laws for marijuana dealers and increased penalties for possession.

  • NoVaNick||

    So, in other words, Sessions is dusting off a Clinton administration policy. Progs should be delighted.

  • Tony||

    Do you never look in the mirror and ask yourself what happened to turn yourself into such a slimy partisan rat?

    Democrats are not to blame for Jeff Sessions. And this isn't a GOP leg-humping website. I don't know why I'm the one who has to tell you that.

  • Agammamon||

    Do you ever look in the mirror and ask yourself 'what happened to my reading comprehension'.

    No one ever said Democrats are to blame for Sessions - only that people like you completely forget that nothing the Trumpistas are doing is any different than what happened under your precious Democratic administrations.

    You like to point out how horrible Trump is and get freaking *pissed* when its pointed out that Clinton and Obama had done the same stuff.

  • Get lit||

    Wat?!? But eyez thunk Barack HUSSAIN Obama was pardoning and commuting dem druggies?

  • Mithrandir||

    Did Clinton or Obama ever advocate the death penalty for drug dealing? I don't remember anything along those lines.

  • Agammamon||

    1994 Clinton crime bi.

  • MSimon||

    Wish it was 1994 Clinton crime hetero.

  • Agammamon||

    Cishet shitlord

  • Tony||

    I know full well the point of whataboutism... to stop the conversation that is critical of Donald J. Trump, usually.

  • Hank Phillips||

    It's not a CPUSA leg-humping site either, and you're still here...

  • NoVaNick||

    I think there is very little difference personally or politically between Trump and Slick Willy. Both are draft-dodging sex addicts, both promise to be "tough on crime", both claim to care about the working class...

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Both have slavish supporters.

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Both have a signature gesture they make when emphasizing some lie or other...

  • Verbum Vincet||

    The hell you say - it's a great idea! The death penalty is extremely underused in all manner of crimes:

    One too many drunken bar brawls? The Breaking Wheel, vous brigand.

    Counterfeiting? Death by boiling, bien sûr!

    Your third DUI, is it? The Guillotine, naturellement!

    You insulted a government official, did you, filth? The pièce de résistance, the déchiqueteuse à bois de la mort (the woodchipper of death.)

    In the case of the Drug War. It's been a wholly abysmal failure, at least when measured against its purported goals. Rapid expansion of the death penalty should be just the tool we need to finally secure victory! No more kid gloves, you junkie brigands! (Think of this tactic as "give the government just enough rope to hang themselves. Get tyranny right out in the open, all up in Americans' faces. Execute their moms and dads and brothers and sisters. That ought to motivate them!")

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Jeff Sessions, is that you? You were pretty good in Blues Brothers.

  • Eidde||

    This may be a good rundown of Trump's negotiating strategy. Make these harsh sentences seem, not excessive, but the Golden Mean between extremes.

    "Death death death - oh, well, I guess I'll accept a 30-year sentence instead."

  • Tony||

    You skipped the part where he's in the room with Chuck Schumer and agrees to free all prisoners (until he's in a room with someone else).

  • Eidde||

    Could you remind me? Like with a link?

  • Rich||

    Sessions encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty "when appropriate"

    This is why Jeff pulls down the big bucks.

  • Mithrandir||

    Jeff Sessions worships Lolth the Spider Queen.

  • PG23COLO||

    Trump and Sessions are irrelevant to the future, if we survive that long.

  • Echospinner||

    Kaisich is not bad. He is no libertarian but he balanced the books in Ohio, achieved decent job growth, eliminated the estate tax and has tried to eliminate state income taxes altogether.

    In the bizzaro reality show of big politics that is never going to cut it. Five minutes of that and viewers will flip the channel "oh look! Naked and Afraid is on"

    Flake must be doing something right if the Trumpists and Democrats both hate him.

  • Echospinner||

    That was meant for another thread.

  • Hank Phillips||

    It's hard to tell what this means. Maybe Trump likes Libertarianism so much he's decided to throw the election to whoever we nominate. Then again he might be trying to get folks to emigrate to Portugal, where a quarter ounce of hash, a few hits of acid and a gram of toot is probable cause for leaving you alone--as long as you don't drink and drive. Portugal repealed those economy-destroying prohibition laws so long ago that if you have a child born the day it happened, that child is already in danger of being entrapped and shot by someone like Trooper Tiller of Seneca. Uruguay, Czech Republic, Argentina and Holland have also quit sending men with guns after people with plant leaves. Religious fascist governments are still eager to kill people over leaves.

  • MSimon||

    It means drug dealing is no longer sufficiently profitable and Trump wants to raise the risk premium and thus cartel and gang profits.

  • bifmozart||

    Canadian police friends from Montreal told me Canada has less drug war violence and fewer civilian casualties by avoiding death penalties and mandatory minimums.

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