What do you think about the prominent role of the criminal justice system in drug enforcement?

What do you think about the prominent role of the criminal justice system in drug enforcement?

“InAlleyene v. the United States(2013), the Supreme Court ruled that before any mandatory minimum sentence can be handed down, it must be shown that the defendant did in fact exhibit behavior that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. This has, in part, changed the prosecution process at the federal level and requires that all relevant information concerning a criminal defendant be included in a charging document. Juries or judges must be shown that a defendant’s actions are culpable before any mandatory minimum penalty can be imposed.

What do you think about the prominent role of the criminal justice system in drug enforcement?

For prosecutors, this means further deliberations on what cases are warranted for mandatory minimum sentence recommendations to judges and juries. Where mandatory minimum cases have been especially problematic is in criminal drug cases, especially at the federal level of government where criminal prosecutions for drug offenses began in earnest in the late1980s and went somewhat unabated until the Alleyenedecision. Subsequent to the decision, Attorney GeneralEric Holder issued an opinion that directed U.S. Attorneys to reevaluate how mandatory minimum sentence recommendations are pursued in the federal courts.

For many, the Alleyne decision is the beginning of reexamining the role of federal prosecutors in addressing the thorny problem of drug usage in America. AttorneyGeneral Holder in his opinion suggested specific criteria for prosecutors as they assess whether or not a particular case deserves a mandatory minimum sentence recommendation. The new policy directs U.S. Attorneys to reexamine carefully their existing charging policies and the importance of drug quality and quantity in a charging decision, as well as timing and plea agreements, advocacy at sentencing, and recidivist enhancements. Attorney General Holder is asking federal prosecutors to think differently about drug prosecution and to produce other practices and outcomes from what has been done the past 25 years, which was aggressive prosecution of both users and dealers of illegal drugs and handing down long prison sentences.

Attorney General Holder was not only guided by the Alleyne decision but also possibly by a changing climate in America regarding drug enforcement and the role of the criminal justice system in addressing drug use, abuse, and addiction. Placed in the context of legislative changes occurring around medical marijuana and even the legalization of the possession of small amounts of “marijuana in some states (Colorado and Washington in2012) through public referendum, Attorney GeneralHolder and his boss, the president of the United States, we’re facing stiff pressure from an American public that saw drug enforcement and prosecution as not being the answer to the drug problem. In some cases, the American public viewed drug enforcement and prosecution as the problem, costing the federal government and the states billions of dollars. In addition, in 2008, the economy tanked.

The federal government and the states were strapped for cash. Pursuing a drug war through the criminal justice system was costly and inefficient. Both conservatives and liberals were calling for a scaling back on criminal justice efforts to address illegal drug use. With this changing political landscape came also the realization that since 2008 the federal government had become parsimonious in its arrest and prosecution of persons consuming marijuana for medical reasons. While the federal government still had the authority to prosecute marijuana users under federal law, states were making marijuana available to persons by a doctor’s prescription through state law, the grandest adventure in the state of California. For some, the writing was on the wall: The drug war was over. In such a changing political environment, AttorneyGeneral Holder’s view on the criminal prosecution of drug offenders and those deserving mandatory minimum sentences has changed significantly and may represent a new and bold form of leadership.


1. What do you think about the prominent role of the criminal justice system in drug enforcement? Is it time to rethink the role the criminal justice system has played in dealing with society’s drug problem? Why is leadership so important in this discussion?

2. What difficulties do criminal justice administrators face when societal expectations change so dramatically in such a short period of time? How and why does criminal justice leadership matter in such a situation?

3. Is Attorney General Holder’s change in prosecution policies for federal prosecutors simply a reactive strategy, or is it a proactive attempt to improve federal criminal prosecution policies and practices?