Pubdate: Tue, 22 Mar 2016
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.


WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors are pursuing fewer drug cases and 
filing charges that trigger mandatory minimum sentences less 
frequently - two indications, Justice Department officials say, that 
former Attorney General Eric Holder's initiative to reduce the prison 
population and enforce drug laws more judiciously has been a success.

Federal prosecutors brought 6 percent fewer drug cases in fiscal year 
2015 than they did in 2014, continuing a steady decline since Holder 
announced his "Smart on Crime" initiative three years ago, according 
to Justice Department data released Monday.

In 53.1 percent of the 2015 cases, no mandatory minimum sentence was 
triggered - compared with 48.7 percent in 2014 and 38.5 percent in 2013.

"We're really happy with the direction," Deputy Attorney General 
Sally Yates said at a briefing to announce the data. "We see it 
trending the direction we wanted to see."

Holder's initiative, announced in August 2013, asked federal 
prosecutors not to bring charges that would trigger mandatory minimum 
sentences against low-level drug offenders and to consider whether 
cases were serious enough to warrant prosecution at the federal 
level. Yates said the idea was to ensure that the Justice 
Department's limited resources were being used efficiently, and that 
federal prosecutors were not unnecessarily filling federal prisons.

The initiative is not without controversy. Some federal prosecutors 
and local district attorneys nationwide have said that tough 
sentencing policies help law enforcement break up drug networks by 
putting pressure on lower-level defendants to plead guilty and 
cooperate and that long prison terms help bring down crime overall.

Yates said that data showed drug defendants have been pleading guilty 
at roughly the same rate since Holder's initiative started, and she 
disagreed with the idea that it played a role in upticks in crime in 
certain parts of the country.

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom