Holder announces plan to evade federal law

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Attorney General Eric Holder is directing federal prosecutors to evade federal law by downplaying the quantity of drugs seized in arrests.

By hiding the level of drugs seized in arrests, the new directive will allow sympathetic judges to avoid complying with “mandatory minimum” sentences set by Congress in the 1986, following the massive increase in crime throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Since 1986, federal law sets long sentences for people arrested while carrying a stated amount of illegal drugs, as measured by weight. The laws were set by Congress amid public skepticism about judges’ willingness to impose tough sentences on criminals.

Holder announced the legal bypass today to an audience of fellow lawyers.

“I have today directed the United States attorney community to develop specific, locally-tailored guidelines – consistent with our national priorities – for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not,” he said, to applause from the progressive audience attending a speech at the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

In practice, Holder’s policy directs federal prosecutors to hide drug quantities from federal judges.

“Prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: Their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history,” The New York Times reports.

Just after he announced his plan to evade the law, Holder noted that Congress is considering changes to the 1986 law that would provide more flexibility to judges.

Holder did not say he would delay the regulatory changes until a reform bill becomes law.

The new evasion will not directly impact state law enforcement.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has evaded laws it disagrees with.

Last June, for example, Obama announced a mini-amnesty for younger illegals. A court rules in July that the policy likely violated the law, but could not be resolved in a court case brought by civil servants.

Similarly, Obama refused to defend pro-marriage laws in court, and claimed the right to decide when the Senate is in session. That claim was rejected the U.S. Court for the District for the D.C.

The annual number of murders in the United States rose from roughy 8,000 in 1950, to roughly 22,000 in 1978, then rose again to almost 25,000 in 1990. In the years after the mandatory immigrants, the number of murders declined to 15,000 around 1998, where is has remained level as the number of poor Americans has sharply increased.

The U.S. population has doubled since 1950, so the current crime rate is back to the 1950 level.

Holder’s evasion of federal law was supported by fellow progressives, who said it is needed because Congress won’t change the law.

Asunción Hostin, a progressive lawyer, told CNN that the plan is likely intended to get around the law and is justified because Congress is gridlocked.

“Perhaps we will see legislative changes in the future,” she added.

The decision was also applauded by groups claiming to represent African-Americans. “For years, our justice system has treated dangerous criminals in the same manner as non-violent men and women,” said a statement from Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“This has created a modern day caste system in America, where millions people – mostly African-Americans, Latinos, and low-income whites – are marked with a scarlet letter that erects permanent barriers to getting a job or an education and to reintegrate into society,” he said.

The Department of Justice is portraying the evasion as a cost-saving prison reform, not a run around federal law.

In his San Francisco speech, Holder presented his policy as a cost-saving way to increase flexibility for federal prosecutors and judges, and also as an aid to communities hard-hit by crime.

Partly because of what he said are funding shortages, “federal prosecutors cannot – and should not – bring every case or charge every defendant who stands accused of violating federal law,” Holder said.

“Some issues are best handled at the state or local level.  And that’s why I have today directed the United States attorney community to develop specific, locally-tailored guidelines – consistent with our national priorities – for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not,” he said.

But Holder also used his speech to urge reduce reliance on prisons, and increased aid and support to youth.

“Even though this country comprises just 5 percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners [and] more than 219,000 federal inmates are currently behind bars,” he said.

However, Holder downplayed the beneficial impact of prisons, which separate a large proportion of criminals from society.

“Widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable… [and] it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

“As President Obama said last month, it’s time to ask tough questions about how we can strengthen our communities, support young people, and address the fact that young black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to become involved in our criminal justice system – as victims as well as perpetrators,” he said.

“My colleagues and I are taking steps to identify and share best practices for enhancing the use of diversion programs – such as drug treatment and community service initiatives – that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration,” he claimed.

Holder seemed to recognize that reduced law-enforcement can wreck neighborhoods, as he also urged judges to release older criminals from jail.

“Of course, as our primary responsibility, we must ensure that the American public is protected from anyone who may pose a danger to the community,” he said. “But considering the applications of nonviolent offenders – through a careful review process that ultimately allows judges to consider whether release is warranted – is the fair thing to do.”

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