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Live Blog: Holder Speaks on Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenders

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Update 10 -- Final Update (10:55 a.m. PT): Attorney Gen. Eric Holder's speech to the ABA in sum: With budget cuts and an overpopulated, overburdened penal system, we can no longer afford to maintian the status quo.

Holder said the Obama administration will be exploring alternatives to incarceration to reform and curb mandatory minimum sentences. Those sentences often result in unfair penalties for nonviolent drug-related offenders, along with disparate sentences for minority offenders, Holder said.

Among the reforms mentioned:

  • More efficient sentencing,
  • Less incarceration of nonviolent offenders,
  • Using prosecutorial and judicial discretion to avoid unfair mandatory minimum sentences, and
  • Better funding for public defenders and other resources for low-income individuals.

Thanks for following our Live Blog. Bookmark FindLaw's Strategist blog for more analysis of Holder's proposals and how they may affect your practice.


Update 9 (10:42 a.m. PT): And that's a wrap. Holder stuck to his script the entire time, and just concluded his remarks by saying, "I will always be proud to stand alongside you in building the brighter, more just, and more prosperous future that all of our citizens deserve."


Update 8 (10:36 a.m. PT): Holder's announcement that he has "directed every U.S. Attorney to designate a Prevention and Reentry Coordinator in his or her district" was met with applause from the ABA audience.

And even bigger applause after Holder said he has "directed all Department of Justice components, going forward, to consider whether any proposed regulation or guidance may impose unnecessary collateral consequences on those seeking to rejoin their communities..."


Update 7 (10:35 a.m. PT): Holder will be pushing for alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion, drug treatment, and community service. He cites a series of state programs (see his speech) that have served as test cases.


Update 6 (10:31 a.m. PT): The ABA audience seems quite pleased with the notion of addressing mandatory minimum sentences.


Update 5 (10:28 a.m. PT): Holder says it's "time to ask tough questions about how we can strengthen our communities, support young people, and address the fact that young black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to become involved in our criminal justice system as victims as well as perpetrators..."

Holder called the disparity in punishments for people of color "shameful." The audience applauded.


Update 4 (10:25 a.m. PT): More applause as Holder tells the ABA: "America's indigent defense systems continue to exist in a state of crisis, and the promise of Gideon is not being met...

"To address this crisis, Congress must not only end the forced budget cuts that have decimated public defenders nationwide -- they must expand existing indigent defense programs, provide access to counsel for more juvenile defendants, and increase funding for federal public defender offices. " More applause.


Update 3 (10:23 a.m. PT): The audience likes this: "Confront the 'school-to-prison pipeline' and those zero-tolerance school discipline policies that do not promote safety, and that transform too many educational institutions from doorways of opportunity into gateways to the criminal justice system. A minor school disciplinary offense should put a student in the principal's office and not a police precinct..."


Update 2 (10:20 a.m. PT): Holder's speech so far in a nutshell: Allocate resources to the "most serious offenses." Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Audience is applauding as Holder sticks to his prepared remarks word-for-word.


Update 1 (10:15 a.m. PT): Attorney Gen. Eric Holder has begun his speech to the ABA by saying his plan will "usher in a new approach" ... to "ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate."

"Our system exacerbates the cycle of poverty," Holder said. "Too many Americans go to too many prisions for too long for no legititimate law enforcement reasons."


Good morning from not-so-sunny San Francisco.

Today, at 10 a.m. PT, in front of the ABA House of Delegates, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to launch a set of initiatives aimed at reducing the impact and application of mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, reports The Washington Post.

Bookmark this page and keep "refreshing" it, as we'll be posting frequent updates when Holder's speech gets underway. And follow @FindLawLP on Twitter as well.

Holder's remarks, while scheduled for some time, remained shrouded in mystery until Sunday night, when excerpts of the speech were provided to sources including the Post. Prior to that, many had expected him to speak generally about sentencing reform, as his last speech at an ABA Annual Meeting, in 2009, covered smarter alternatives to fighting crime and alternatives to incarceration.

This time, Holder's speech will contain specifics on how the administration plans to avert "mandatory" minimums, such as creative drafting of federal criminal complaints and in some cases, not filing federal charges at all. The specifics of charging policies are expected to be developed individually by each of Holder's 94 U.S. Attorneys to fit each locality's needs, reports the Post.

The plan consists of more than internal policy changes. He is also expected to announce legislation, with bipartisan support to give judges greater discussion on when, or whether, to apply the mandatory minimum, especially for low-level drug cases not related to gangs or large-scale drug operations.

The Post cites a number of statistics that ably illustrate the scope of our ever-increasing incarceration problem. The U.S. population has increased by about a third since 1980, while the federal prison population has increased 800 percent, at a cost of $80 billion in 2010. The federal system is currently 40 percent over capacity.

Interestingly enough, Holder is not expected to announce any changes to the administration's marijuana policy, despite two states legalizing marijuana last November. The two state measures directly violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibit the sale and possession of marijuana.

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