Contrary to the May 13 editorial “It’s time for federal sentencing reform,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions was right to restore the standard for bringing criminal charges against those who profit from drug trafficking. Mr. Sessions’s instruction to prosecutors is that they should charge with the most serious, readily provable offense. It is scarcely up to the executive branch to subvert Congress’s mandatory minimum sentencing by bringing lesser charges. That’s usurpation, not compassion.
The editorial was mistaken in playing down Mr. Sessions’s instruction that restoration of the former, nearly uniform charging standard can have exceptions. More reflection and accountability are what we should want, not fear, from federal prosecutors.
The editorial was correct in saying we need a bipartisan charging and sentencing policy. We have one in the mandatory minimum terms it condemns, which stem from the same consensus that produced the bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.
Under mandatory sentencing, the prison population expanded but crime rates plummeted by a little less than half. It’s one of the most remarkable achievements in domestic policy of the past 50 years. Combined with other tough-on-crime policies such as more proactive and computer-assisted policing, it has made the country much more secure, especially for minorities, who are disproportionately victims of the drug trade and the deadly gunplay it breeds. The attorney general’s charging policy merits our thanks.
William G. Otis, Falls Church
The writer is a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and former special counsel for President George H.W. Bush.