“‘Mandatory minimum’ sentences to end for many drug offenders”

August 12, 2013

Los Angeles Times on August 11, 2013 released the following:

“Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. plans to announce a federal policy shift to reduce penalties for low-level, nonviolent offenders and to ease prison overcrowding.

By David G. Savage

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors will no longer seek long, “mandatory minimum” sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, under a major shift in policy aimed at turning around decades of explosive growth in the federal prison population, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. planned to announce Monday.

“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason,” Holder planned to tell the American Bar Assn. meeting here, according to an advance text of his remarks. “While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.”

Under the new policy, prosecutors would send fewer drug offenders to federal prison for long terms and send more of them to drug treatment and community service. A Justice Department spokesman said officials had no estimate of how many future prosecutions would be affected.

The change responds to a major goal of civil rights groups, which say long prison sentences have disproportionately hurt low-income and minority communities.

In his speech, Holder endorses that point of view, saying that “a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities” and that “many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”

He also notes that prominent conservatives have embraced the idea of cutting sentences and reducing prison populations.

Conservative groups with leaders including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have called for changing U.S. crime and prison policies, Justice Department officials note. Support from conservatives has come in part because of the enormous bite that prison costs take out of state budgets.

Beginning with the “war on drugs” of the 1980s, many states and the federal government adopted laws that required judges to impose long sentences on anyone caught with certain amounts of illegal drugs, regardless of the circumstances.

More recently, as crime rates have dropped sharply in most major urban areas, public demand for lengthy prison terms has waned, and both liberal and conservative states have changed their laws to incarcerate fewer people.

Advocates of change point to Texas and New York as leaders in the effort to reduce sentences, particularly for lower-level drug crimes. Although California has modified its strict “three strikes” sentencing laws, the state has made fewer changes than many others. The state’s prisons currently are under court order to reduce the number of inmates by nearly 10,000 this year to cope with overcrowding.

Congress has moved more slowly than state legislatures. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have both called for pulling back on the use of mandatory minimum prison terms.

In his speech, Holder plans to cite proposals by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), two of the Senate’s leading liberals, and Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), two tea party favorites, that would give judges more leeway in sentencing drug offenders.

“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder says in his speech.

How big a role mass incarceration has played in cutting crime rates remains a hotly debated topic among criminal justice experts. But there’s no disagreement that mandatory minimum sentences helped cause explosive growth in prison populations. At the federal level, nearly half of the 219,000 inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes.

“While the entire U.S. [prison] population has increased by about a third since 1980, the federal population has grown at an astonishing rate — by almost 800%,” Holder’s speech says. “It’s still growing, despite the fact that federal prisons are operating at nearly 40% above capacity. Even though this country comprises just 5% of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”

Under the new federal policy, which stems from a review Holder ordered this year, U.S. attorneys will no longer bring charges that include lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms in cases of “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels,” Holder planned to announce.

Those low-level offenders instead “will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct.”

Meting out long sentences to low-level criminals “breeds disrespect for the system” and does not serve public safety, the speech says.

In addition, according to the remarks, the federal Bureau of Prisons will revise its guidelines to allow the early release of more inmates who are elderly or who seek “compassionate release” for medical reasons.

The department is also looking into new ways to identify drug offenders who can be sent to drug treatment or required to do community service as an alternative to prison.

“Clearly, these strategies can work,” Holder’s speech says, citing recent efforts in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. “They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


A Eugene Federal Judge Rejected Mandatory Minimum Sentences

October 31, 2012

The Register Guard on October 31, 2012 released the following:

“Mandatory sentences rejected

A judge refuses to send a father and son to prison for five years for burning trees and brush on federal land

BY KAREN MCCOWAN

Rejecting mandatory minimum five-year sentences as “grossly disproportionate” to the crimes, a federal judge in Eugene on Tuesday sentenced an Eastern Oregon rancher to three months in prison and his adult son to one year and a day for deliberately setting fires on federal land.

A federal jury in June convicted the Harney County pair after a two-week trial in Pendleton.

Jurors convicted Dwight Hammond Jr., 70, on a single count of arson for “intentionally and maliciously” setting the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire in the Steens Mountain federal management and protection area. They convicted Steven Dwight Hammond, 43, of the same crime and of a second arson count for similarly setting the 2006 Krumbo Butte Fire. It burned in the same area and in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The jury acquitted both men on arson charges in two 2006 fires.

U.S. Judge Michael Hogan agreed with the Hammonds’ defense lawyers that setting fire to juniper trees and sagebrush in the wilderness was not the type of crime that Congress had in mind when it set mandatory sentences of five to 20 years for anyone who “maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy by means of fire” any federal property. The mandate was part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Prosecutors alleged that the father-son owners of Hammond Ranches Inc. set a series of fires on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land where the Hammonds had grazing rights. Prosecutors said the fires were set to reduce the growth of juniper trees and sagebrush, and to accelerate the growth of rangeland grasses for the Hammonds’ cattle.

Some 15 friends, relatives and neighbors of the pair traveled from Eastern Oregon to support them at the sentencing. The men’s attorneys submitted dozens of letters of support.

In a sentencing memo, the defense lawyers noted that both men have served on the French Glen School Board, Community Club and Site Council, and were “instrumental” in founding and financing the French Glen Education Foundation, which funds extracurricular activities for area students. The Hammonds also regularly host an annual science and careers fair for seven rural schools, contribute money and food to the Harney County 4-H and FFA clubs, and donate meat to the Harney County Senior Center, the memo said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Papagni acknowledged that the Hammonds, “both of them, have done many wonderful things for the community.”

But he urged Hogan to follow the law, noting that Steven Hammond’s nephew — Dwight Hammond’s grandson — testified that he “thought he was going to get burned up” when flames moved toward him as the then-13-year-old followed his uncle’s orders to light brush with matches.

The arsons also endangered the lives of BLM firefighters and hunters camping near one of the blazes, the government alleged.

“Congress decided that this particular offense should carry a mandatory, statutory minimum term of five years,” Papagni wrote in the government’s sentencing memo. “The evidence of defendants’ guilt was substantial. The jury’s verdict of guilt for this particular offense mandates imposition of the required statutory minimum term, as the statute constrains this court’s discretion.”

Hogan disagreed, imposing the lesser terms. He also sentenced both Hammonds to three years of postprison supervision and required them to surrender their firearms. The judge also allowed the men to stagger their sentences in order to keep operating their ranch. He ordered Dwight Hammond to report to prison in January, with Steven Hammond to begin his sentence upon his father’s release.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.