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House Hearing on Cartels and Extraditing El Chapo

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on "Taking Down the Cartels" this week. Predictably, several committee members called for the quick extradition of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

There were four witnesses at the hearing: James Dinkins, a director of Homeland Security Investigations for ICE; John Feeley, a deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Dept; Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of international affairs and diplomatic officer at Homeland Security; and Christopher Wilson, from the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

I just read the transcript of the hearing (available on Lexis.com). A Republican from Georgia named Paul Broun really stood out -- and not in a positive way -- repeatedly referring to El Chapo as "an animal." Here are some of his remarks:[More...]

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DOJ Endorses Guideline Reduction in Federal Drug Cases

Attorney General Eric Holder testified today at a hearing of the U.S. Sentencing Commission on proposed amendments to the sentencing guidelines, one of which is to lower drug sentencing guidelines by two levels. He supports the change. Once approved by the Commission, unless Congress rejects the proposed amendments, it will go into effect Nov. 1. In a press release today, DOJ says:

Until then, the Justice Department will direct prosecutors not to object if defendants in court seek to have the newly proposed guidelines applied to them during sentencing.

There are 216,000 federal inmates. The Bureau of Prisons says it is housing 173,661 of them. Of the 158,000, 98,554 are serving time for drug offenses. (The next biggest category is immigration offenders -- 20,862 inmates.)

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Feds Issue Banking Regs for Marijuana Businesses

FinCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) and Department of Justice today issued new guidelines and a memo for banks doing business with marijuana businesses. The FINCEN press release is here.

The guidance provides that financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses in a manner consistent with their obligations to know their customers and to report possible criminal activity.


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Since the sad death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is still prominent in the news, bringing with it the predictable wave of hysteria over heroin use and clamors for more restrictions on pain pills, I will use the opportunity to point out the futility of using our criminal laws as a response to heroin addiction, and the origins of heroin. [More..]

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U.S. Sentencing Commission Proposes Drug Guideline Reductions

Via Sentencing Law and Policy, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has issued this press release calling for comments about a suggested two level reduction in offense level for all drug offenses under the federal sentencing guidelines. The proposed reduction would amount to about 11 months per sentence but would not (and could not) affect mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.

The Commission says the amendment would reduce the number of inmates in the federal system: [More...]

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New York To Allow Limited Medical Marijuana

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will announce this week that he is issuing an executive order which will allow seriously ill patients to receive medical marijuana from hospitals.

The policy is intended for patients with serious diseases like cancer and glaucoma.

In light of how far the rest of the country has come, this seems like very small potatoes. But at least it's a step in the right direction.

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DOJ to Spend $544k to Increase Presence on Linked-In

The Department of Justice signed a contract December 24 to pay $544,000 for an "enhanced profile" and increase its branding on the social networking site "Linked In." The recipient of the contract is Carahsoft Technology Corporation, and you can view the contract details here.

Here is DOJ's justification for avoiding the open-bidding process and what it gets for its money. Among the benefits: Full access to every Linked-In profile.

DOJ will be using Linked In to recruit new prosecutors.

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Bill Bratton to Serve Again as NY Police Commissioner

New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced that William Bratton will again serve as police commissioner.

He replaces Raymond Kelly, who served since 2002.

Good move by de Blasio. Bill is a strong believer in constitutional rights. I attended his swearing-in ceremony in Los Angeles in 2002 -- here's my report.

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War on Drugs: Cheaper and Purer Than Ever

As many have been saying for years, the Global war on drugs has been an epic failure:

The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy said its report suggested the war on drugs had failed. The report, published in the British Medical Journal Open, looked at data from seven international government-funded drug surveillance systems.

More here and here.

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OIG Report: DOJ Overstates Terrorism Convictions

The Office of Inspector General has issued a new report on DOJ's reporting of prosecutions and convictions, including terrorism cases. The report is a follow-up to a 2007 and 2012 report which found DOJ inflated its terror case statistics. The new report finds DOJ continues to misreport its record in terrorism cases. The OIG attributes the mistakes to shoddy record-keeping.

“These inaccuracies are important in part because DOJ management and Congress need accurate terrorism-related statistics to make informed operational and budgetary decisions,” [I.G. Director Michael] Horowitz said in a statement accompanying the audit’s release.

The full report is here. [More..]

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DOJ to Defer Challenge to New State Marijuana Laws

The Department of Justice has officially spoken about state marijuana laws. It has advised the Governors of Colorado and Washington that provided it enacts robust regulations that do not not interfere with 8 DOJ priorities, it will "defer its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time."

AG Eric Holder has issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors (available here) on the new policy and the 8 priorities in enforcing federal marijuana laws.

The key point: The major sea change is not with respect to possession for personal use, which the feds don't normally charge anyway, but in its willingness to allow some private production and distribution of marijuana. [More...]

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Leahy Schedules Hearing on Conflict in State and Federal Marijuana Laws

Sen. Patrick Leahy has scheduled a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on September 10th on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole have been invited to testify.

“It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” Leahy said. “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”

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DEA's South Pacific Adventures

It may be Sequester time for the rest of us, but not the DEA. It's moved on from Africa to the South Pacific. Why? To catch cocaine going from South America to Vanuatu in the South Pacific with a final destination of Australia.

U.S.-Australian cooperation with authorities in Vanuatu, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia have resulted in almost 2 tons of cocaine destined for Australia being seized from five vessels since 2010.

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Eric Holder: Changes in Mandatory Minimum Charging

Attorney General Eric Holder will announce a sea change in policy at the Justice Department this morning in his speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. I hope he gets a standing ovation.

“I have mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences,”

Since we have had a do-nothing Congress on mandatory minimums since they were enacted in Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 under President Reagan --27 years -- Holder is going to effect change through prosecutorial discretion. Why?

[Mandatory minimum sentences] "breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They have had a disabling effect on communities. And they are ultimately counterproductive."


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New Yorker Feature on Forfeiture Abuse

The New Yorker has a lengthy new article on civil forfeiture abuse by state and local authorities. It's filled with horror stories of corruption and violations of civil liberties.

In many states, it's no more than highway piracy:

Patterns began to emerge. Nearly all the targets had been pulled over for routine traffic stops. Many drove rental cars and came from out of state. None appeared to have been issued tickets. And the targets were disproportionately black or Latino.

In others, it's policing for profit. Some cities, like Detroit, try to justify the seizures as "quality of life" preservation under ancient vice statutes. This one is a doozy: [More...]

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