Law enforcement organizations across the country strongly oppose Republican efforts to empower Democrats to release thousands of convicts back onto the streets amid a nation-wide crime wave by passing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.
President of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations Coalition Bob Bushman said talk about “sentencing for drug-related crimes has been completely turned on its head.” “It no longer seems to be about public safety, continued crime reduction, or preventing further victimization; today it seems to be about minimizing punishment,” he wrote in a letter to Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.
“People affected by federal sentencing laws are not ‘low-level non-violent’ offenders,” Bushman continued:
At a minimum, they help to finance the gangs and cartels whose business model depends on creating and nurturing drug addiction, terrorizing our communities with violence and intimidating tactics, and actively discouraging cooperation with law enforcement while actively encouraging disrespect for the law. Drug trafficking is a very volatile trade that relies upon violence as a tactic of intimidation to ensure cooperation, protection and success of the illegal business. Drug dealers don’t pay taxes on their earnings, yet their illicit activities cost the taxpayers dearly to fund the law enforcement, medical, and social services that are required to clean up the carnage and destruction left in the drug dealers’ wake. Is this who we want to help with changes to federal sentencing laws?
Lowering sentences will also likely impact cooperation in drug investigations between local, state, and federal law enforcement. Local law enforcement may be less willing to defer to their federal partners because there would be less leverage over the mid-level participants in drug trafficking organizations. Many high-level trafficking cases are built based on this cooperation and are facilitated by the possible penalties on the mid-level participants. Reduced penalties make it harder to get to the highest levels of criminal organizations.
National District Attorneys President William Fitzpatrick stressed balance, writing that prison populations and crime rates could possibly decrease simultaneously, but their chief concern was protecting the victims of crime.
“Our members worry that retroactivity of sentencing reductions may lead to reopening old wounds for victims who have had cases resolved by collaboration between state and federal prosecutors, with the ultimate plea in federal court not necessarily reflecting the inclusion of serious violent state charges,” Fitzpatrick stated.
In another letter, FBI Agents Associates President Reynaldo Tariche warned against “creating unnecessary risks for already vulnerable communities.” Retroactively cutting sentences for convicts would endanger pending and successful investigations and prosecutions, Tariche wrote, and it would make it more difficult for authorities to pursue cases against criminal enterprises.
“Given the current environment, Congress should be very careful about making sweeping changes to the sentencing options available to investigators and prosecutors who combat criminals and terrorists. As has been reported, major cities across the country have experienced sharp increases in violent crimes in recent years,” he wrote. “FBI Director James Comey has been quoted as describing the spike as a ‘nation-wide phenomenon’ that is ‘very, very worrisome.'”
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 could affect as many as 46,000 convicted criminals, Tariche added.
During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys President Steven H. Cook made the most detailed criticism of the proposed Act. It’s radical in nature, he said: “The overwhelming majority of criminal legislation is prospective in its application—that is, it does not undo and revisit past cases that are final,” he said. “This bedrock principle is important in the law for a number of reasons. Fundamentally, as the Supreme Court has said, ‘the principle of finality… is essential to the operation of our criminal justice system. Without finality, the criminal law is deprived of much of its deterrent effect.’”
Cook went on to state:
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act rejects this basic principle of our criminal jurisprudence by making every major provision in the bill retroactive. And the impact is huge. The retroactive application of lighter penalty provisions will seemingly make thousands of armed career criminals, serial violent offenders, and high-level repeat drug traffickers eligible for substantial sentence reductions. This can only serve to undermine the confidence of communities and victims who relied on the system for a measure of justice, law enforcement officers who investigated the cases and believed them to have been final after full and fair litigation, and the general public that followed the cases with confidence and an expectation that the cases had ended. And since most of these cases were resolved by negotiated plea agreements in which concessions were made by the government (often including the dismissal of or agreement not to pursue other sometimes serious federal or state charges), this will be a complete windfall to criminal defendants and at the same time will deprive the government of the benefit of its bargain.
To be clear, the beneficiaries of the retroactivity provisions of the Act will be dangerous criminals who blatantly violated clearly established laws, have already pled guilty or been convicted by juries, have been sentenced by judges, appealed their cases to our appellate courts and have thus received the full measure of due process afforded by our Constitution. If this legislation passes and is made retroactive, for some of these offenders this will be the fourth time their sentencing has been reopened. How can we expect the public to have confidence in a criminal justice system that is unstable to the point that the rules are rewritten every year or two and the litigation never concludes? When does it end?
Convicted criminals would have opportunities to fight their sentences while the victims of their crimes would never see closure, and communities crippled by so-called “non-violent” crimes would not heal.
Email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org.