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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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DEA's Special Operations Division in Media Crosshairs

I'm delighted to see the media get on the case of the DEA Special Operations division.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

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The Myth About Chicago's Murder Rate

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn takes on the claims that Chicago's murder rate is the highest in the country and that it's murder rate has reached a crisis point in his new column, Wrongly Accused.

"Since Trayvon Martin was killed, 500 people have been killed in Chicago alone," said talk-show host Larry Elder during a guest appearance on CNN on Tuesday evening. The previous night on the same network, in a video montage related to the umpty-whillionth panel discussion prompted by Zimmerman's acquittal, an unidentified woman said, "Nobody's talking about what happened in Chicago last week; 62 people were killed."

Nobody was talking about it because it didn't happen. No one on the show bothered to correct the assertion — the actual number of murders in Chicago in that week was 10, police said...

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Feds Raid Dispensaries in Washington State

The DEA raided several medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington State yesterday. One had only been open a month.

Casey Lee, an employee at the Bayside Collective, said DEA agents served him with a search warrant and seized about "11 or 12 plants Wednesday morning. They also took marijuana in jars that is set aside for patients. He said the seized marijuana totaled about a quarter pound. The DEA agents seized his and another employee's cell phone, Lee added.

Fellow Bayside Collective employee Addy Norton said she was "terrified" during the raid, and DEA agents pointed guns in her face as they entered the building.

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No Money for Federal Defense But Costa Rica Gets New Computers

A hearing was held yesterday on sequester cuts to defender services. Funding for federal defender services is quickly becoming a constitutional crisis. Federal defender offices are facing closure, federal courts are considering doing away with juries in civil cases, fees for appointed counsel are being delayed, and funding is being slashed for probation and pre-trial services. The Judiciary has requested emergency funding, and Congress has not acted on it. Here is the statement of Hon. Julia S. Gibbons, Chair of the Committee on the Budget of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

But the U.S. has money to buy Costa Rica $30,000 of new computers as a "display of friendship" to be used in developing crime-fighting strategies, as part of the CARSI initiative.[More...]

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Eliminating Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System

Just released: a groundbreaking report with

[an] inclusive examination of the profound racial and ethnic disparities in America’s criminal justice system, and concrete ways to overcome them.

The full report is here. It is co-sponsored by co-sponsored by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, the Foundation for Criminal Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, and the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

The scope of the disparity: [More...]

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DOJ Report: Gun Murders Down 39% From 1993-2011

The Department of Justice's latest report on gun violence by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows a 39% drop in gun murders from 1993 to 2011. Non-fatal gun crimes are down 69%.

In 2011, homicides made up about 2% of all firearm-related crimes. During the same period, gun sales increased. Also, 60% of state inmates charged with gun crimes obtained their guns legally. Only 2% got their guns at a gun show:

60 percent of state prison inmates arrested for a gun-related crime obtained their guns legally: 37 percent from family or friends, 10 percent from a retail or pawn shop and just 2 percent from a gun show or flea market.

The full report is here.

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How to Save DOJ Money Without Furloughs

Attorney General Eric Holder sent out a memo to Justice Department employees Friday (available here) saying he transferred $150 million from DOJ's funds to the Bureau of Prisons to avoid mass furloughs of prison guards and staffers.
Absent this intervention, we faced the need to furlough 3,570 staff each day from the federal prisons around the country. The loss of these correctional officers and other staff who supervise the 176,000 prisoners at 119 institutions would have created serious threats to the lives and safety of our staff, inmates, and the public.
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Holder Defends Aaron Swartz Prosecution

During today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Department of Justice Oversight, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. He said prosecutors offered him a three month sentence and later said they would seek six months. He said the charges carried a potential of 35 years in prison.

What about the overcharging? Any prosecutor can overcharge and then offer you a deal to what you should have been charged with in the first place. What kind of deal is that?

Holder said DOJ has examined the matter and determined the prosecutors acted appropriately. Their examination included talking to the prosecutors. Did they talk to defense counsel? [More...]

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Holder Testifies at Senate Judiciary Comm. Hearing

Attorney General Eric Holder will testify this morning at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on DOJ oversight. Many expect him to discuss DOJ's response to Colorado and Washington's recently passed marijuana legalization laws.

I doubt the objections to the laws raised yesterday by former DEA officials will sway him. When they wrote him in September 2012, before the elecion, asking him to publicly take a stand against the laws there was no response. There was silence. Here is their latest letter. The organization on the letterhead, Save Our Society From Drugs, is political action committee. [More...]

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Federal Judges Consider Alternative Sentencing in Drug Cases

Some thought it would never happen. Others thought it was inevitable. Regardless, the time is upon us. Federal judges are turning to drug courts and even deferred prosecutions in drug cases, a policy that has met with good success rates in state court, with the agreement of DOJ.

Leading the charge is U.S. District court judge Jack Gleeson in Brooklyn.

Federal judges have instituted programs in California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. About 400 defendants have been involved nationwide.

Judge Gleeson issued this 35 page order about the benefits of the program in comparison to our draconian sentencing laws. [More...]

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New Jersey Legalizes Online Gambling

Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill allowing online gambling in New Jersey. Nevada and Delaware are doing the same.

The federal government changed its position in 2011 to allow some online gaming within states where gambling is legal, but it is unknown whether the federal government will move to broaden the market.

The feds need to do the same for marijuana. AG Eric Holder says he is getting ready to make a decision on how DOJ will respond to recently passed laws in Colorado and Washington.

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Sentencing Commission Report on Child P*rn

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released its report on sentencing in child p*rn cases. It makes several recommendations, including lowering penalties for some offenders.

The Commission believes that the current non-production guideline warrants revision in view of its outdated and disproportionate enhancements related to offenders’ collecting behavior as well as its failure to account fully for some offenders’ involvement in child pornography communities and sexually dangerous behavior. The current guideline produces overly severe sentencing ranges for some offenders, unduly lenient ranges for other offenders, and widespread inconsistent application.

The executive summary is here and the full report is here. The findings and recommendations are here.

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Biden vs. the NRA

VP Joe Biden met with the NRA today. The NRA is not happy.

Biden sat down for about an hour and a half of talks with an NRA representative and officials from other gun owners' groups after telling reporters he is likely to recommend background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.

"It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems. We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen," the NRA said in a statement after the meeting.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also called for universal background checks today. Colorado has background checks for commercial sales and gun shows, but not private transactions. [More...]

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