Senate Proposal Would Expand Mandatory-Minimum Drug Sentencing — Again

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013. (Photo: Gage Skidmore) Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), facing a primary runoff in a state struggling with opioid misuse, is pushing to vastly expand mandatory-minimum sentencing for the opioid drug fentanyl. Advocates say the proposal would repeat one of the worst mistakes of the war on drugs. In a move that would reinvigorate one of the most harmful innovations of the drug war, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) is pushing to vastly expand mandatory-minimum sentencing for those convicted of possessing the opiate drug fentanyl. Her proposal is facing fierce opposition from public health and civil rights advocates eager to end the war on drugs. Nearly 100 organizations sent a letter to Senate leadership this week opposing the legislation, which they say would extend harsh punishments to low-level […] Read More

The Unjust Law Enforcement Money Machine that Is Civil Asset Forfeiture

Cops can seize money and belongings by asserting that the officers involved believe it is connected to some illegal activity. Every year in the United States, federal and state law enforcement agencies seize millions of dollars in cash and prizes (sorry, I couldn’t resist) from civilians during traffic stops and drug raids. The act of seizing said money and belongings can be employed legally simply by asserting that the agents/officers involved believe the money or merchandise is connected to some illegal activity, and in some cases these actions take place without anyone ever being criminally charged. Under federal law and the laws that are currently on the books in a good number of states, law enforcement agencies are at liberty to keep most (and sometimes all) of the money and property they seize. Ka-ching! The morning briefing at the local cop shop: “Let’s hit those streets and bust some […] Read More

Thousands of Rapists Are Not Behind Bars Because Cops Focus on Marijuana Users

Every dollar and police hour spent on nonviolent drug offenders takes away from real crime. A piece in the Washington Post highlights the growing backlog of untested rape test kits that are sitting in police storage units while rapists run free and victims suffer.  Missing from the story, however, is one of the biggest contributors to this backlog, the enormous amount of police and tax resources spent targeting drug crimes, particularly marijuana possession. The backlog is a disgrace. The total number of rape test kits that have never been sent to laboratories for testing exceeds 100,000. In some cases, the kits have been sitting in storage for decades. From the Washington Post: “In 2009, authorities found more than 11,000 unprocessed kits at the Detroit crime lab after it was closed for improperly handling weapons evidence. After testing the first 2,000 kits, authorities identified 127 serial rapists and made 473 matches overall to known convicts […] Read More

Obama May Grant Clemency to Thousands Convicted of Drug Violations

The Obama Administration continues to rollback oppressive sentences for those with non-violent drug convictions An unnamed White House official has told Yahoo! News that President Barack Obama is preparing to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been imprisoned for non-violent drug violations. This news comes a few months after the administration’s announcement that it has encouraged defense attorneys to suggest inmates who should be considered for early release from prison. This indicates that the Obama administration will continue in its efforts to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases. Late last year, President Obama commuted the sentences of nine people serving time in federal prison for non-violent offenses involving crack cocaine, saying that they had been sentenced under an “unfair system.” There is a huge disparity in sentences handed down between crack and powder cocaine offenses. This has been reduced somewhat by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which brought a long-sought reduction in the penalties for crack cocaine. […] Read More