Newsbrief: Ambitious US Attorney in Boston Orders Increased Drug Penalties 11/22/02

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Boston US Attorney Michael Sullivan has ordered prosecutors in his office to increase recommended sentences for drug offenders in every case where they can, the Boston Globe reported Saturday. Under Sullivan's policy, which took effect in March but only openly came to light recently, prosecutors must seek "sentencing enhancements" that can add from two to 30 years to sentences for drug crimes. Previously, federal prosecutors could decide on a case-by-case basis whether to seek the harsher sentences.

Under Sullivan's policy, a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug dealing is doubled if the defendant has a previous state drug conviction. With two prior felony drug convictions, the minimum sentence is life. The Boston US Attorney's office now also automatically seeks enhancements for the use of a weapon in a crime; those are worth an additional five years in prison.

"Indigent defendants are getting hammered by this US attorney's office, and it's appalling," said Charles W. Rankin, chairman of the group of court-appointed defense lawyers who practice in federal court in Boston. "The sentences people are getting are huge, and to what end? Just because the government wants to be tough and macho," he told the Globe.

Sullivan, a former Republican prosecutor for Plymouth County widely believed to have higher political aspirations, said he is simply implementing the "tough on crime" policies he has always espoused. "The public expects we do everything possible to ensure the safety of the communities that we serve," Sullivan told the Globe. "It's critically important in terms of the message we send to the community, whether that's people thinking of committing crimes of violence or using weapons in the commission of crimes." He didn't address what message he is sending the community by imprisoning nonviolent minor drug offenders for decades.

But even Sullivan's staff is criticizing the policy, the Globe reported. Speaking only anonymously, some federal prosecutors questioned the fairness of decades-long sentences for minor drug offenders. "It's politics," one told the Globe. "He acts like he's still running for office," said another.

And the juggernaut rolls on. Last year, 235 people were sent to prison for drug offenses in the federal district of Massachusetts. That's an increase of more than 30% since 1999, more than three times the national rate.

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Issue #264, 11/22/02 DRCNet Needs Your Help! | Editorial: It's Not About Public Safety | Drug Czar, Prohibition Establishment Seek "Zero Tolerance" for "Drugged Driving" -- Sober Marijuana Users in the Crosshairs | DC Treatment Initiative Clears Legal, Bureaucratic Hurdles, More Funding and Implementation Battles Loom | Medical Marijuana in New York: As the Marijuana Reform Party Licks Its Wounds, MPP Funds New Legislative Effort | Newsbrief: This Week's Cop Corruption Story | Newsbrief: HEA Resolution on the Move on Campuses | Newsbrief: With Milwaukee Drug War Running on Overdrive, Drug Court Judge Begins to Wonder | Newsbrief: Oklahoma Prisons Gobble Up More Cash | Newsbrief: Ambitious US Attorney in Boston Orders Increased Drug Penalties | Newsbrief: Arkansas Drug Czar Resigns After DWI Bust | Newsbrief: Could It Possibly Be TRUE Department -- New African High? | Newsbrief: California Town Won't Report Medical Marijuana Cases to DEA 264/antimarijuanaresearch Newsbrief: NORML Gives Heads Up on Anti-Marijuana Research Results to Be Published Next Week | Green Aid Establishes Legal Defense Fund for Ed Rosenthal | Media Scan: Doonesbury, Forbes in Slate, OC Register, Ed Forchion in DrugWar.com, Youth Today, Nando Times, CCLE Salvia, Heroin Times, Pot TV on John Walters, ONDCP | Action Alerts: Rave Bill, Medical Marijuana, Higher Education Act Drug Provision, Tulia, Salvia Divinorum | The Reformer's Calendar
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