The US war on drugs, previous to the Obama administration, was something of a fixed part of American culture in the 1980s and 90s and into the 2000s.
Lawmakers and those running for public office wanted to take a tough stance against the kind of violence and disarray we saw arising from the drug cartels in other countries.
As a result, those charged with minor drug crimes would often receive mandatory severe minimum sentencing.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are binding prison terms of a particular length. For example, 5-10 years for people convicted of certain federal and state crimes. This was like a “one size fits all” sentencing.
Many of the critics of the war on drugs have pointed to the damaging effects it has had, like the mass incarceration of young, African-American men.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the US Drug War
Late in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions began speaking about overturning some of the instructions put into place by Obama era Attorney General Eric Holder.
These memos were designed to help avoid putting low-level drug criminals who were not employed by large-scale drug trafficking organizations in prison for a long time.
Now, Sessions has been speaking to law enforcement groups around the country about prosecuting more drug and gun cases and bringing severe charges to drug traffickers, low-level or otherwise.
He also wants to allow prosecutors to use what are called enhancements to make sentences longer. This means, according to Section 851 of the Controlled Substances Act, those charged with federal drug crimes, firearm crimes or immigration crimes could face enhancements if they already have a felony conviction for a drug offense.
The Obama era sentencing was more lenient on all but the violent offenders to try to make punishments more fairly fit the crimes.
Lawmakers and Attorneys Divided
Opinions are divided among lawmakers and attorneys in our country. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky supported making laws that would reduce the mandatory minimum sentences. He believed that ending mandatory minimum sentences would make it easier to focus on violent crimes that more impact our communities.
Sessions opposed and helped to derail that bill.
Some prosecutors in the U.S. fought the Obama era guidelines, feeling that the guidelines kept them from being able to build cases from the ground up against major drug organizations.
In addition, these new guidelines come into the forefront, at the same time the Trump administration is expending effort to combat prescription painkiller addiction across the country by studying the addiction phenomenon, putting new healthcare bills into place, and attempting to treat the problem from a medical standpoint.
It could be argued that the Trump administration wishes to help addicts and to prosecute drug traffickers. However, some see these two messages as conflicting.
Matthew Miller, former Obama era spokesman said this: “If you are addicted to opiates, you’ll get White House attention and increased treatment options. If you get picked up with crack in your pocket, you’ll get jail time and a mandatory minimum.”
Over to You
What do you think? Should we seek harsher mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers? How should this country seek to combat the growing drug-related problems?
If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug-related offense, it is critical that an experienced criminal defense attorney is consulted. Please call my office today.