Data Reveals Federal Prosecutors Are Focused on More Significant Drug Cases and Fewer Mandatory Minimums for Drug Defendants
March 21, 2016 - 1:58 PM
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The
Justice Department today revealed new data from its innovative Smart on
Crime Initiative that show charging decisions by federal
prosecutors in fiscal year 2015 resulted in prosecutors' focusing on
more serious drug cases and fewer indictments carrying
a mandatory minimum. Meanwhile, prosecutions of high-level drug
defendants have risen and cooperation and plea rates remained
effectively the same.
“The promise of Smart on Crime is showing impressive results,” said
Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. “Federal prosecutors are
consistently using their discretion to focus our federal resources on
the most serious cases and to ensure that we reserve harsh mandatory
minimum sentence for the most dangerous offenders. By ensuring fair and
proportional sentencing, these policies engender greater trust in our
criminal justice system, save federal resources and make our communities
more safe. "
As part of the department’s Smart on Crime Initiative – announced in
August 2013 – federal prosecutors were instructed to ensure the
department’s finite resources are devoted to the most important law
enforcement priorities implicating substantial federal interests and to
promote fair enforcement of our laws, especially for low-level,
non-violent drug offenders.
Since that announcement, prosecutions of serious drug defendants –
such as those involving a weapon or leaders of a conspiracy –
have increased, and there has been virtually no change in the rates at
which defendants cooperate with the government or plead guilty. During
the same time, the department has seen steady reductions in charges that
trigger mandatory minimums and fewer federal drug charges for
low-level, non-violent offenders.
The FY2015 data, provided by the Sentencing Commission, shows:
Federal prosecutors are being more selective in their drug
prosecutions. Even though drug cases are fewer in number, they are more
focused on the most serious defendants. There was a 14 percent drop in
drug cases brought between FY2012 and FY2014 and an additional 6
percent drop from FY2014 to FY2015, showing a steady downward trend that
resulted in nearly 5,000 fewer drug cases between FY2012 and FY2015.
At the same time, the percentage of those drug defendants with a
weapon rose (from 15.1 percent of cases in FY2012 to 16.4 percent of
cases in FY2014 and then to 17.3 percent of cases in FY2015).
Similarly, the percentage of defendants with an aggravating
role steadily increased (from 6.6 percent in FY2012 to 7.1 percent in
2014 and 7.8 percent in 2015).
Just as prosecutors are focusing on the most serious defendants,
they are moving away from low-level offenders and letting state
prosecutors take those cases, if they so choose. That fact is clear
because prosecutors are charging defendants who qualify for safety valve
(by definition, lower-level defendants) less frequently – from 37
percent of cases in 2011 to 32 percent in 2015.
Federal prosecutors are charging mandatory minimums significantly
less frequently. In FY 2012, 38.5 percent of all drug cases had
no mandatory minimum, whereas post-Smart on Crime, that number rose to
48.7 percent in FY2014 – the first full year that Smart on Crime was
implemented – and then up again to 53.1 percent in FY2015 – meaning less
than half of all drug cases involved charges carrying a mandatory
Finally, drug defendants are still cooperating with the government
to make cases against others. The percentage of motions denoting
substantial assistance, or cooperation, from defendants filed in drug
cases have remained the same over time. They were filed in 23.1 percent
of drug cases in FY2012 and in 23.9 percent of drug cases in FY2015.
Guilty plea rates have stayed at roughly 97 percent consistently.
You don't have permmission to comment, or comments have been turned off for this article.