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On May 12th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally withdrew a signature part of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that encouraged prosecutors to target the most serious crimes and reduce the number of defendants charged with nonviolent drug offenses that would otherwise trigger harsh mandatory sentences.
Sessions has instructed, “that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” In other words, Sessions supports sending a wife or girlfriend of a drug dealer to prison for 10 years to LIFE, for conspiracy, if she had minor involvement or knowledge. A drug conspiracy charge is easy to prove because no tangible evidence is required. Merely the word of a cooperating co-conspirator is enough to support a guilty verdict. In other words, a drug dealer is magically credible if they take the witness stand to testify at the behest of the prosecution. But if they proceed to trial, the prosecution will paint them as a threat to society worthy of a sentence longer than most violent criminals receive. Typically, only those who go to trial or fail to provide “substantial assistance” receive mandatory sentences in federal drug cases.
During the clemency initiative we shared many horror stories hatched from this type of sentencing structure. Truthout recently published an article entitled Women Imprisoned Under the Drug War Speak out Against Sessions’ New Policy that focuses on two women from the CAN-DO Top 25, Michelle West and Alice Johnson. Both are serving draconian LIFE sentences due to the 80s, “zero tolerance” intellect that simultaneously released major drug dealers and even violent criminals if they merely “cooperated.” The flaw in this policy is that criminals are desperate to curry favor with the prosecutor in order to get the best deal and are not always trustworthy. Therefore, many good people were fed into the system based on the word of a working informant, who in many instances can be a kingpin, a murderer, (as in Michelle West’s case) or violent repeat offenders. Sadly, the prosecution will work with these unsavory characters who have no morals and in some cases are even paid to be an informant! This allows some of the worst criminals to escape punishment by simply implicating others.
We simply cannot return to these barbaric practices. Indeed, momentum for criminal justice reform was on our side which Sessions is determined to undermine. Senators Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy have responded to Sessions outrageous memo by introducing the Justice Safety Valve; legislation that will curb mandatory sentences and give judges some discretion as to what sentence would be appropriate for the person standing before them.
Help us FIGHT BACK by signing Weldon Angelos’ petition to stop Sessions from escalating the drug war. Weldon was a victim of mandatory sentences, having served almost 13 years on a 55-year sentence for marijuana. This is not who we are as American citizens. It’s time to reduce mass incarceration in the U.S., not escalate it.
Read more stories of gross injustice at www.candoclemency.com