Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is President Trump’s next choice to be this nation U.S. Attorney General. As a former attorney general for the State of Alabama and a federal judge nominee, Republican lawmakers and other Sessions supporters believe he is imminently qualified to be the nation’s top law enforcement official.
But during his long political career, Sen. Sessions has picked up a lot of political baggage—most notably concerns that he is racially insensitive having been a staunch opponent of immigration reform and a critic of the Voting Rights Act, even though he voted for its extension.
While these are troubling issues for those opposed to Sessions nomination as attorney general, it is his unwavering support of the death penalty and his tough stand on drug crimes that causes the greatest concern for federal criminal defense attorneys who will oppose him in the cases he elects to prosecute.
“The Grim Reaper”
The death penalty remains one of the most controversial issues at both the state and the federal level. Should a defendant ever be sentenced to death? Sessions says yes, and has fought for the death penalty in the following cases:
- Varnall Weeks: the Supreme Court banned executions of insane people while the fate of Varnall Weeks was still being decided. Weeks, if you don’t know, believed he was God and would be resurrected as a giant flying tortoise. According to the Supreme Court, Weeks should not be executed. However, Sessions fought to qualify Weeks as a competent man so he could receive the death penalty. He was put to death in 1995.
- Samuel Ivery: Ivery provided evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and was the victim of racial slurs from the prosecutor in his case.
- Levi Pace: Pace’s trial also contained racial discrimination, and two jury members who “felt it was their duty to recommend a sentence of death, regardless of the circumstances.” Pace’s life was saved when a state appellate court reversed his death sentence, going against Sessions.
- Central Park Five: While Sessions was not involved in this case, last August Sessions praised Trump’s support of the death penalty for the Central Park Five. The Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002 after DNA evidence proved that they did not commit the crimes of which they were accused.
These are far from the only examples, but they do provide important insight into Sessions criminal justice thinking. The Senator believes in the death penalty so strongly that during his service in Alabama, he supported a bill that would allow prosecutors to seek the execution of individuals who had been convicted twice for drug trafficking offenses.
You read that right.
Currently, drug trafficking convictions can result in long stays behind bars, even up to decades due to federal mandatory minimum sentencing. Three strike offenders with violent criminal histories can be sentenced to life in prison. The death penalty, however, is rarely considered a rational sentencing option in straight drug offenses, regardless of the quantity of narcotics involved.
While efforts under President Obama’s Justice Department, like its “Smart on Crime” initiative, reduced the number of traffickers subject to long term imprisonment, Sen. Sessions could, an probably will, put a halt to these programs in favor of harsher “law-and-order” approaches that will only increase mass incarceration without any safety benefits for society.
Drug Crimes Will Likely Be a Top Priority
During his time as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Sessions made drug crimes a top priority. He pooled resources into busting drug crimes – even if it meant taking it away resources from serious violent offenses investigations and prosecutions.
Sen. Sessions attitude about drug crimes is a throwback to a pre-Obama era and runs counter to the recent bipartisan efforts to reduce drug crimes sentences and legalizing marijuana. Sessions, in contrast, has said that marijuana is a “very real danger” and “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
His recent efforts include leading the opposition against the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. This bill aims to lower mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, while not significantly affecting the sentences for violent crimes.
Only a Matter of Time
In a few days, the Senate will vote to confirm Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General. Many sources say that Sessions is likely to win the position. His unwavering support for the death penalty, including the death penalty for drug traffickers, could mean that we are headed in a direction in which drug crimes, including drug trafficking, are punished more harshly than ever before.
If you are charged with a drug crime, it is crucial to talk to a federal drug crimes lawyer immediately. These types of charges are always serious and come with severe penalties, but in the coming climate you are likely to be fighting against federal prosecutors and agencies who must report back to an attorney general who seems ready to get very tough on drugs.