Defending a drug crimes case may finally get easier. Attorney General Eric Holder made an announcement yesterday at the American Bar Association annual meeting that federal prosecutors will stop seeking longer mandatory sentences for many non violent drug offenders. This, allegedly, is part of a new effort to focus on violent crimes and national security. The federal prison population is bursting at its seams, and as part of the government’s cuts on spending, they are focusing on ways to reduce the prison population. I am hoping this signifies a significant shift in policy in the war against drugs.
This new drug crimes policy will allow prosecutors to not put specific drug amounts in their indictments allowing for more leeway in sentencing. Currently, there is a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of 28g, or about an ounce, of crack cocaine. Diverting cases from the prison system to community service and drug treatment programs, to me is a no-brainer. The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced August 1, 2013, aims to allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing at the federal level. I am interested to see if this proposed bill goes anywhere. It should.
As a criminal defense attorney who practices in both the federal and state level, I can tell you flexibility is key. Each and every case I have had has unique circumstances that deserve to be heard by the judge. At the state level, there are already “drug courts” and “mental health courts”. Both of those are examples of court systems that allow for individualized review of cases. A blanket, one size fits all approach to the criminal justice system does not work.