Attorney General Eric Holder's broad effort to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and reduce sentences for defendants in most drug cases is facing resistance from some federal prosecutors and district attorneys nationwide, reports the Washington Post. Opponents argue that tough sentencing policies provide a critical tool to dismantle drug networks by getting cooperation from lower-level defendants and building cases that move up the criminal chain of command. Longer prison terms for more criminals have led to a significant decline in the crime rate over the past 20 years, these critics say, and they argue that Holder's proposed changes are driven by federal budget constraints, not public safety.
“Rewarding convicted felons with lighter sentences because America can't balance its budget doesn't seem fair to both victims of crime and the millions of families in America victimized every year by the scourge of drugs in America's communities,” Prosecutor Raymond Morrogh of Fairfax County, Va., a director of the National District Attorneys Association, told the U.S. Sentencing Commission yesterday. The prospect of ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses also has drawn fire from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Sally Yates, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said any new system will require some period of adjustment. “This is a sea change for assistant U.S. attorneys,” said Yates. “They grew up in a system in which they were required to seek the most serious charge, which often resulted in the longest sentence. Now, the attorney general is saying, 'Look at the circumstances of every case and his or her prior criminal history in determining the fair and appropriate charge.' That's a lot harder than robotically following a bright line rule.”