A major argument against proposed changes to federal sentencing laws is that taking away stringent mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes means that prosecutors can no longer use the fear of prison to flip drug criminals and go after those who run drug cartels. BuzzFeed says that former Attorney General Eric Holder had prosecutors change the way they charged some drug criminals, avoiding charges carrying mandatory minimums when possible. Some prosecutors worried they'd lose their ability to net the biggest fish.
Sally Quillian Yates, a career federal prosecutor now leading Obama administration efforts to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum drug sentences on Capitol Hill, says the old system was wrong. Yates, now Deputy Attorney General says, “The rate of guilty pleas has stayed exactly the same as it was prior to our new mandatory minimum policy and in fact the rate of cooperation is the same or has gone up slightly.” Yates has been saying for years that mandatory minimums, which don't apply in the vast majority of cases federal prosecutors coerce cooperation from all the time, aren't necessary to put high-level drug offenders behind bars. Now she's overseeing the process by which prosecutors move away from mandatory minimums, and she's one of the leading advocates in the administration push to eliminate mandatory minimums altogether in most cases.