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Humanity and Hope is the Only Thing that Can Save Our Criminal Justice System

Late in the morning, January 19th I received a message from a woman I didn’t know from the Department of Justice.  She wouldn’t tell my assistant the reason for her call.  As any criminal defense attorney knows, unexplained inquiries from the federal government are not typically welcome phone calls. I immediately went through a list of investigation matters which could have precipitated such a call. I reached out to my law partner to warn her that we might be in for some bad news.  Her response was more optimistic than mine, saying, “Are you sure this isn’t your clemency petition?” That thought hadn’t occurred to me, because, this being the day before Inauguration Day, I had assumed that President Obama, had already issued his last round of pardons and commutations.   I quickly hung up and called the number.  The woman who left me the message answered. I introduced myself and she said she was calling from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice.  My heart was in my throat.  Then the message came: she told me that President Obama was commuting my client’s sentence. I started crying the moment the words came out of her mouth. Once I composed myself, I learned that her office had already set up a call between my client and me, so that I could be the first person to share the news with him.  Telling my client that President Obama himself had decided that he was deserving of a second chance will always remain a highlight of my career. In total, President Obama granted clemency to 1927 individuals. Of those, 1715 were commutations and 212 were pardons.  While that number may sounds high, it is in fact quite low considering the large number of nonviolent drug offenders who are languishing in federal prisons throughout this country. During the full course of his presidency, President Obama received 36,544 petitions for clemency, which means ultimately he only granted around 5% of those petitions. It has been hard for me to put into words the gratitude that I feel to President Obama for the humanity he showed my client.  Especially because my client is someone who is nameless and faceless to much of our society.  It is easy to get behind the cause of someone who has notoriety because of either their position or media spotlight given their incarceration.  But to care about someone who is regarded as nothing more than a number in our system – a person who few would even notice if they were walking by – that is the true mark of a leader and a hero by my standards. For me, this client isn’t a number; he is a human being and deserving of this chance. He has paid his debt to society and then some and deserves an opportunity to have a chance to reenter that society. The fact that the President of the United States agreed gives me renewed hope. I have begun to think about the lessons to draw from this experience and from the Obama presidency in general. For me, these lessons are centered on humanity and hope. There are so many ways that our system has been made better and stronger for the hope and humanity that has been infused into it. From the Clemency Project, to the Holder Memos, to the effort to improve prisons by reevaluating solitary confinement and the privatization of federal prisons, and to the Justice Department’s conducting of investigations and using  consent decrees to eliminate unlawful conduct in local law enforcement agencies. The common thread that runs through these initiatives is that they infuse both humanity and hope in our system – the heart and soul of criminal justice reform.   When I heard that President Obama had commuted my client’s sentence, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude. It was partially from the relief that someone finally cared enough to listen to this young man’s story. But it was also a greater sense of redemption for all the moments that I have had to stomach watching a system that previously didn’t care; one void of humanity or hope.  Today, because of criminal justice reform our system is stronger, fairer, and more just. And we must fight to keep it that way. The post Humanity and Hope is the Only Thing that Can Save Our Criminal Justice System appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama, I am a criminal defense attorney, and at the prodding of one of my colleagues, Marjorie Peerce of Ballard Spahr, I have volunteered my time to screen clemency petitions through the Clemency Project, a project to provide free legal assistance to federal prisoners serving longer sentences than they would have received if sentenced today.  In this role, I review multiple clemency petitions and evaluate whether an executive summary should move on to the project’s steering committee.  It is overwhelming how many individuals are languishing in prison with life sentences who are low level drug offenders with no history of violence. Being a small part of helping to right the wrongs created through overcriminalization has been rewarding beyond belief. But it has also been a stark reminder of the injustice endured by so many of our nation’s prisoners. In my work with the Clemency Project, I agreed to prepare an executive summary to support a petition for clemency for an old CJA (Criminal Justice Act) client of mine who received a 200 month sentence for selling 58 grams of crack. The importance of this responsibility cannot be overstated.  It feels different than defending someone facing a charge – this is a person’s last chance in my hands. To get to know the personal story again behind this human being is both tragic and disturbing. He grew up with parents plagued by addiction and witnessed both his mother and father using cocaine in the family home from an early age.  His father died when he was twelve, a tragedy that sent him into a downward spiral.  He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and became so addicted to narcotics himself that, for the six years leading up to his arrest, he spent every day getting high on drugs to feed his crippling addiction.  Eight months after he was sentenced in this case, his mother died from HIV.  My heart broke when I discovered that, in the close to ten years he has been incarcerated, no one has gone to visit him. I wanted to get in my car and go visit him myself. The facts of the case and his criminal history don’t even begin to justify a double-digit prison sentence for a 23 year-old young man. I am disturbed and outraged at how our system has hurt this young man. All I can think about as I am finalizing the executive summary to submit to the Clemency Project is that my work is not enough. I am consumed with the thought that I must reach out directly to you, Mr. President. My hope is that I can express to you the magnitude of the injustice that occurred here, and that I can implore you to use your discretion to right this wrong.  My hope is that I can help you see what I see about this young humble and kind man who never had a chance in life to be more than a small time street level drug dealer. My fellow defense attorneys who’ve seen these kind of injustices might say that no one is ever going to see this letter, that it is a useless effort.  We know that we are up against steep odds whenever we represent a defendant charged with a drug offense.  We tell ourselves these are the crack guidelines, and we can’t change that.  We tell ourselves that this is a tough judge, and we can’t change that.  And in spite of our pleas for leniency or even just a fair sentence, we walk away having to swallow our outrage, understanding that we can only do so much to change the system. Our cynicism, shaped by years of injustice, makes us think that no one in power is ever going to care about the cause of an insignificant young man like my client, certainly not the President of the United States. I am writing to you, Mr. President, because I believe you do care. I have been troubled by this case for ten years and although I am grateful that, in your presidency, you have shown concern for these issues, I somehow want you to hear that a young man was designated a career offender for selling 58 grams of crack when he had previously been charged with having sold cocaine on only two prior occasions of such small quantities that in one instance he only made $15.00. And as this was unfolding, like in so many other cases, those entrusted as officers of the court stood by and acted as if it was normal and commonplace: simply our criminal justice system at work. I want to ask you to meet my client and learn the tragic story that brought him to where he now sits, in prison. I want you to be the one that finally visits this young man, not as a PR opportunity but to truly see him and talk to him. This act would serve as an acknowledgment that his life really does matter.  I want you to bear witness, with me, to the severity of what our criminal justice system did to him.  In my mind, this would be a meaningful step in repairing the injustice, which could change his life forever. The post Dear President Obama appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All

Every once in awhile, we meet people who truly inspire us to be better people and better lawyers. Marjorie Peerce is one of those people. As a partner in the New York office of Ballard Spahr she focuses her practice on white collar, regulatory and commercial defense. Yet since 2014, in addition to her busy practice, she has made time to work tirelessly to recruit and train volunteer lawyers to provide free legal assistance to federal inmates who may be eligible to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President of the United States. Over 3,000 attorneys across the country have volunteered their time to work on this project, including 100 lawyers from Ballard Spahr. Every application submitted by Ballard Spahr is reviewed by Marjorie. She recently saw the first fruits of her labor and that of her colleagues when, on March 29, 2016, Obama granted clemency to 61 federal inmates, 25 of whom came through Clemency Project 2014 and two of whom were represented by Ballard Spahr attorneys. To put this in context, on April 23, 2014, former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced the DOJ’s initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President. Under the clemency initiative, the DOJ is prioritizing applications from inmates who meet the following criteria: • Currently serving a federal prison sentence and likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; • Non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels; • Have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence; • Do not have a significant criminal history; • Have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and • Have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment. Approximately 35,000 inmates responded to a Bureau of Prisons questionnaire indicating that they believe they meet the clemency criteria. After the clemency initiative was announced, the Administrative Office of Courts determined that inmates do not have a 6th Amendment right to counsel for the purpose of seeking clemency. As a result, federal money cannot be used to pay attorneys employed by the Federal Defenders or through the Criminal Justice Act to represent inmates under this initiative. In an effort to address the need for federal inmates to obtain legal assistance in submitting clemency applications, Clemency Project 2014 (“CP 2014)” was formed by lawyers from the Federal Defenders, American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”). CP 2014 lawyers screen inmate requests to determine if they meet the clemency criteria, assign a volunteer lawyer to prisoners who appear to qualify, then assist the inmate in filing the clemency request. To date, 250 clemency applications have been granted by the President; approximately 60 of those applications came through CP 2014. I spoke to Marjorie about the two individuals recently granted clemency by the President who had been assisted by Ballard Spahr attorneys. Kevin County, a 43 year old African American, was convicted in New Orleans for selling small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin. Because he had a prior felony conviction, he received a sentence of 20 years (240 months) in prison and has already served 167 months. He was scheduled for release in 2020. Under current law, Mr. County would have been sentenced to 70-80 months in prison. Last week, Marjorie, together with Joanna Jiang and Erica Leatham, the Ballard Spahr attorneys who worked directly with Mr. County, called Mr. County in prison to tell him that he had been granted clemency by the President and would be released in July. Mr. County’s response was simple but powerful: “God bless you! Thank you!” Marjorie spoke to the New York Times after the announcement and praised President Obama for commuting the sentences of 61 federal inmates including Mr. County and stated “[t]he war on drugs from the 1990s resulted in inordinately harsh and long prison sentences for offenders who did not deserve to serve that length of time.” The other Ballard Spahr client, Angela Laplatney, was represented by Ballard’s Salt Lake City office, including Blake Wade and Melanie Clarke, also received a grant of clemency from a 20 year sentence for selling methamphetamine in Wyoming. Ms. Laplatney had served over 10 years of her sentence and was scheduled to be released in 2022. She, like Mr. County, will be released in July. Marjorie is grateful to Ballard Spahr for supporting the work of CP 2014, and noted that “pro bono is ingrained in the DNA of the firm.” She likewise praised the work of her NACDL partners, Jane Anne Murray and Norman Reimer, who serve on CP 2014’s Steering Committee with her, through which they certify that applications submitted through CP 2014 meet the clemency criteria. Marjorie told me that in over 30 years of practicing law, her work with CP 2014 has been “the single best thing” she’s done. She is on a mission to help as many federal inmates as possible who are serving sentences that, under current law, are “obscenely severe.” The recent grants of clemency by the President have further fueled Marjorie’s drive to help these inmates, and there is no doubt that her efforts in recruiting, training, and mentoring volunteer attorneys will pay off and change the lives of people who, until now, have been resigned to spending many more years in prison. Marjorie’s enthusiasm for CP 2014 is contagious. Lawyers who, like Marjorie Peerce, are willing to give up some of their time to work on this project will cherish the rare opportunity to change lives. By: Sharon L. McCarthy Partner, Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP New York, New York The post Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Criminal Defense: Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences

President Obama commuted 46 defendant’s sentences this week – what a turnaround for the defense bar.  More often than not, our cries for leniency and a reasonable perspective when fashioning a sentence falls on deaf ears –  so much so that it feels hard to trust that people are actually listening and doing something about it.  As defense attorneys we develop tough skins, and an ability to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after every lost battle. Because of this experience, it has been difficult, at least for me, to trust there is a genuine and universal desire to help our clients.  This feeling has stuck with me throughout the Clemency Project, where I feel as though I have been waiting for the rug to get pulled out from underneath me. But I must admit that in this week’s announcement, something shifted.  I began to relax, and mistrust was replaced with hope.  I never thought I would see the day where a sitting President would give a news conference explaining that the punishment levied in the drug sentences he commuted didn’t fit the crime while he announced we are a nation of second chances.  And then post a video of his address (see embedded video below) on social media.  The President even sent personal letters to the 46 prisoners, encouraging them to take advantage of the second chance they had been given.  Finally, the President will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison this week and is expected to announce his administration’s plans to overhaul the criminal justice system. If I am dreaming, don’t pinch me. These 46 newly commuted sentences that bring the total of sentences commuted to around 90, is still a small drop in a big bucket, but it is starting to feel like a powerful drop. This drop is about far more than just the lives of 46 people, it is a strong statement by our leader that something has to change; that our criminal justice system is broken.  It is hope for our clients past, present, and future. This announcement also reminds me that there is still an overwhelming amount of work to do.  There is an army of lawyer volunteers to assist with the overwhelming number of applicants for clemency but that army is a drop in the bucket too. Even more lawyers are needed.  If you would like to help, please visit The Clemency Project and volunteer if you have not already.  It is so important that we take advantage of this opportunity for our clients, our system, and our humanity. The post Criminal Defense: Obama Commutes 46 Drug Sentences appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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If I Get Sick in Prison, Can I Sue?

Let’s face it, prisons aren’t exactly sterile environments. And some states (e.g. California) are just regaining control of health care in correctional facilities after federal authorities had to take over because of allegations of substandard care. Therefore, getting sick in prison is a distinct possibility, especially if you have a previous condition like diabetes or heart disease. So if you get sick in prison, or if your condition worsens due to prison conditions, can you sue for damages? Finding the Right Claim Filing a lawsuit for injuries in jail or prison can be tricky. There are several options, depending on the circumstances, and each has its own legal hurdles and pitfalls: Cruel and Unusual Punishment: A suit for violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is possible, and the inmate would need to prove (1) prison employees knew about the dangerous or risky condition, (2) failed to remedy the condition, and (3) the inmate’s fundamental rights were therefore violated. (These are generally made under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code and the Prison Litigation Reform Act.) CRIPA Complaint: the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) provides a way for federal inmates to reports complaints of rights violations or abuse directly to the Department of Justice, however CRIPA complaints are limited to prison-wide or systemic issues rather than individual issues. Bivens Actions: Like Section 1983 claims, so-called Bivens actions are based on a violation of constitutional rights or of federal law. State Tort Claims: If all of the above are unavailable, an inmate may be able to sue under standard theories of negligence; however, many public officials have qualified immunity, which shields them from civil liability. Finding the Right Defendant As all of the above claims are particular to certain scenarios, they are also limited to specific defendants. For example, Bivens actions can only be brought against federal prisons and employees, while CRIPA complaints only apply to state-run institutions. And Section 1983 lawsuits can only be filed against state and local governments, not against the federal government or private prison companies. As you can see, suing for getting sick in prison can be incredibly complicated. If you’ve gotten sick in prison, you may want to contact an experienced injury attorney to discuss whether you have a claim. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Abused Behind Bars? What Can You Do? (FindLaw’s Injured) Arnold Schwarzenegger Sued by Calif. Inmates Over Valley Fever (FindLaw’s Celebrity Justice) Rights of Inmates (FindLaw)
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GM Recall Spurs DOJ, Congressional Probes

The DOJ is investigating General Motors for allegedly failing to address dangerous safety problems for years before issuing a recall. Federal prosecutors have been joined by members of Congress, who are beginning their own investigation and will conduct hearings on GM's culpability in allegedly waiting a decade to recall 1.6 million vehicles, reports The New York Times. With so much federal scrutiny, this may be a rough year for GM. Recall, Defect Investigation It isn't uncommon or unseemly for auto manufacturers to issue recalls when a safety issue or defect is discovered. In fact, auto companies are required to issue a recall for any vehicle or part that fails the minimum performance standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or whenever a safety-related defect is discovered. According to the Times, federal prosecutors are reviewing whether GM failed to disclose defects to federal regulators like NHTSA -- or even intentionally misled them. At the center of this investigation is a safety defect in the ignition switch in more than 1 million GM vehicles from model years 2003 to 2007. This defect, which put more than three-quarters of a million American cars at risk, could cause engines to turn off while vehicles are in motion. The defect has been linked to at least six deaths, and prompted a massive recall by GM. Investigators will attempt to figure out why GM allegedly failed to fix this defect for so long. The company may have known about the problem as early as 2004, reports the Times. Criminal and Civil Charges Ahead You may not think that executives can charged under criminal law for failing to issue a recall, but that's exactly what the top brass at GM could potentially be facing. Under the TREAD Act -- one made famous by the Firestone tire disaster -- any person who intentionally misleads federal regulators with respect to dangerous or deadly car defects can face up to 15 years in prison. Anyone at GM who intentionally misled government officials regarding the ignition switch defect could be facing serious federal prison time. Aside from that possibility, the company could also be held liable for millions in civil damages, if lawsuits are successful. However, anyone wishing to sue GM for defect-related injuries will likely need the charges approved by a bankruptcy court. According to Automotive News, when GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, it agreed to leave all pre-2009 defect issues with "Old GM" in a bankruptcy court. Related Resources: Congress, Justice Department open probes in GM recall (Detroit Free Press) 'New' GM Wants Vehicle Liability Claims to Stay with 'Old' GM (FindLaw's Injured) GM Recall Expands to 1.6M Vehicles; 13 Deaths Reported (FindLaw's Common Law) Browse Motor Vehicle Defects Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Can Lead to Arrest

Laser pointers can be fun, useful gadgets, but pointing them at helicopters can land you in handcuffs. Laser pointer pranksters may think these helicopter hijinks are funny, but state and federal law enforcement aren't laughing. Multiple Arrests for Laser-Pointing Helicopters In recent months, laser pointer pranksters from coast to coast have been arrested for incidents involving laser pointers and helicopters. Here are just a few examples: In California, 19-year-old Jenny Gutierrez of San Bernardino County was arrested Thursday for allegedly shining her green laser pointer at a sheriff's helicopter -- which then followed the car she was riding in and relayed her location to deputies on the ground. If Gutierrez is convicted, she could face up to five years in federal prison, Los Angeles' KCBS-TV reports. In Ohio, 46-year-old Nicholas Vecchiarelli of Hubbard is currently under court order to "stay away from lasers" after allegedly pointing one at a TV news helicopter in October, reports Youngstown's WFMJ-TV. In Nevada, a man with a prior record of aiming lasers at police helicopters in Phoenix is accused of doing the same with Las Vegas police copters. James Zipf, 30, of Henderson, is now facing six federal felony counts, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. In Oklahoma, 42-year-old Carl Don Floyd of Tulsa has been charged in federal court with allegedly shining a green laser at a Tulsa police copter, striking the tactical flight officer in the eyes, reports the Tulsa World. And in Texas, San Antonio's WOAI-TV reports that Don Ray Dorsett, 28, of El Paso, was charged in federal court with pointing a laser a helicopter owned by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Each of these laser-pointer offenders may have particular state or local dimensions to their cases, but they've all allegedly run afoul of federal law. Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Is a Federal Offense For those who didn't get the memo in February, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are cracking down on laser pointing when it involves aircraft. While this strict enforcement effort is somewhat new, the federal law against pointing lasers at aircraft has been on the books since 2012. Federal law prohibits knowingly pointing the beam of a laser at an aircraft or "at the flight path of such an aircraft." ("Aircraft" is defined by federal law as "a civil, military, or public contrivance invented, used, or designated to navigate, fly, or travel in the air" -- which includes helicopters.) Violators can face up to five years in federal prison. Accidentally flashing a helicopter while using a laser pointer for stargazing isn't prohibited. But if you're worried about your potential criminal liability for laser-pointing, or if you've been charged with such a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney today. Related Resources: Laser pointer damages eye of air ambulance medic (Dallas' WFAA-TV) Are Laser Pointers Illegal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Clark Gable's Grandson Gets 10 Days in Jail for Laser Pointing (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) FAA: Laser Strikes on Airplanes a Growing Issue (FindLaw's Blotter)
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FBI: $10K Reward for Lasers Pointed at Planes

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that sheds light on the identity of pranksters who point lasers at planes. The new incentive intends to deter people with laser pointers from pointing them at aircraft -- which is a felony -- and encourage informants to come forward. An FBI press release reminds the public that this criminal activity is "dangerous" and has "potentially deadly" repercussions. So how can tipsters get their rewards for ratting out laser-pointer perpetrators? Pointing Lasers at Aircraft Is a Felony Laser pointers may have started out as a presentation aid for high-powered business meetings, but they mostly ended up in the hands of middle school jokesters who delight in shining them on just about anything. And while owning a laser pointer isn't illegal, using it in certain ways can be incredibly illegal. Shining one on a uniformed officer can get you shipped off to federal prison, and shining them on any aircraft has similar consequences. The Federal Aviation Administration took particular notice in 2010 to an increase in "laser strikes" on airplanes. The FAA's worries are well grounded, as shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft can blind the pilots and crew, placing the aircraft and its passengers in real danger. This risk of blinding pilots was one of many reasons that President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 into law, which made pointing lasers at planes a federal felony. A person who knowingly points a laser pointer at an aircraft can spend up to five years in federal prison. FBI Reward Aimed at 12 Major Cities In order to really cement this crackdown on laser pointers and airplanes, the FBI has offered a $10,000 reward for tips in prosecuting these laser pointer perps. But in order to collect the ten grand, tipsters must provide information that leads to an arrest under the federal laser pointer law. As of Tuesday's press release, the FBI has offices in 12 major cities which are participating in the laser-pointer reward program: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Chicago; Cleveland; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Sacramento, California; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C. If you have a tip and would like to report a laser-pointer offense, contact your local FBI office or simply call 911. Related Resources: FBI offers reward for tips on lasers shone into aircraft cockpits (Reuters) Are Laser Pointers Illegal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Clark Gable's Grandson Gets 10 Days in Jail for Laser Pointing (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Are Radar Jammers Illegal? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: “Smart on Crime” Sentencing Reform

Last August at the ABA Annual Meeting, United States Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech unveiling his new proposed strategy to deal with over-criminalization. He called it “Smart on Crime.”  The ABA recently reported that there seems to be bipartisan support for sentencing reform after those within and outside of our criminal justice system are finally realizing that we simply can’t afford to house the rising number of prisoners in this country.  In the article, they discuss the shocking statistics – including the fact that since 1980 the federal prison population alone has increased by 800 percent from 25,000 to more than 219,000.  The BOP budget makes up more than 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget and is projected to be as much as 40 percent of its budget by 2022. The DOJ Smart on Crime strategy is based on five principles: - Prioritize prosecutions to focus on the most serious cases. - Reform sentencing to eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overburdened prisons. - Pursue alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent crimes. - Improve re-entry to curb repeat offenses and re-victimization. - “Surge” resources to violence prevention and protection of the most vulnerable populations. Last May, the House Judiciary Committee appointed a task force on over-criminalization. And there are efforts to craft multiple bipartisan criminal justice reform packages, including the Justice Safety Valve Act.  Eric Holder said it was “well past time to implement…changes.” Although I am thankful that DOJ is finally getting on board to support sentencing reform I am also mindful that things won’t change fast enough for our clients. So how does this help clients today who are still currently facing draconian sentences on non-violent offenses and mandatory minimum sentences in drug offenses while we wait for Congress to act? The statements alone are helpful.  Every speech that Eric Holder makes discussing the sentencing disparity in drug offenses, or advocating for sentencing reform, should be a part of every defense attorney’s presentation to a judge for a variance or departure.  And although this is a federal court issue it equally translates to the problem with over-criminalization in State Courts throughout the country.  It is a powerful statement that the Attorney General of the United States is advocating for sentencing reform… and we should be using his words in our advocacy for our clients.
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