Sessions has yet to announce specific policy changes, but Cook’s new perch speaks volumes about where the Justice Department is headed.When the War on Drugs started in the 80s, appellate judges mostly rubber-stamped sentences and convictions, and district courts gave prosecutors free reign. We've seen the opposite trend recently, with judges more likely to go below the guidelines and courts of appeals more likely (slightly) to wade into criminal issues. Some of this, of course, has to do with the changes in the law and the changes in administration. But it's in times like these where the judiciary is sorely needed to fulfill its role as a check on the executive. Let's see what happens.
Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.
Crime is near historic lows in the United States, but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” in America that requires a tough response.
“Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad,” Sessions said to law enforcement officials in a speech in Richmond last month. “It will destroy your life.”
Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction — back to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences.
“They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
Meantime, in our District, one fellow asked for the max sentence so he could get medical care in prison. This put Judge Cohn in a tricky situation. From Paula McMahon:
Though the judge and Brown said they did not want to reward Peak by giving him what he wanted, Brown said they were in a bind:
“For him to not get what he wants means he’d get less time in prison and that doesn’t seem right either.”
Judge Cohn said he believed Peak had other options, including Medicaid.
Brown said that would have “required a lot more effort than Mr. Peak is willing to put in.”
The judge made it very clear that he took a dim view of the whole escapade. He paused for several minutes before announcing his compromise decision.
Based on Peak’s long criminal history and his most recent offense, Cohn said he had decided to impose the maximum punishment recommended by sentencing guidelines: Five years and three months in federal prison.
But Peak wasn’t getting everything his way.
Judge Cohn routinely approves requests by prisoners that he recommend a specific prison. But he rejected Peak’s request that he recommend sending him back to the prison medical center in Missouri. The judge said it was up to the Bureau of Prisons to pick an appropriate placement — not Peak.