Federal prosecutors have been advised by Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Attorney General, to pursue death penalties for cases related to drugs, whenever it is applicable or appropriate. He spoke on Monday, emphasizing that American must step up their effort in dealing with opioid abuse in America.
His announcement has been preceded by President Donald Trump, who has called for a tougher laws in relation to the sentencing of opioid trafficking. Earlier this week, Trump announced a plan that has proposed that dealers and traffickers of opioid be executed.
The move to call for the penalties in drug cases has already caused controversy and reform groups of criminal justice have been highly critical of it, saying it’s not the right response to a public health crisis. They have drawn similarities between now and the drug policies that were implemented in the 1980s in the war on drugs, which had caused issues with prosecutors discriminating on the basis of race.
Only federal cases, where the perpetrators have committed heinous crimes or acts, is the death penalty given in the United States. Currently, 61 people in federal prisons have are on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The punishment is not exclusive to federal cases though, with some of the states also imposing it for the most atrocious criminal acts. However, a lack of drugs used to carry out the penalty and thus, they haven’t been able to carry the sentences out.
The U.S. Attorneys’ offices received memos discussing the opioid epidemic, where he said that it was no longer possible to continue with business, when they were surrounded by such issues. He urged the federal prosecutors to use each and every lawful tool they possessed in dealing with the protagonists in this epidemic, which included drug traffickers, violent street gangs and transitional criminal organizations.
Not everyone has supported the move, with the opposition pointing to a lack of resources that would no doubt be the result of such cases, at the U.S. Attorneys’ offices. They say the cases could be difficult to process through the courts, owing to their complex nature which takes time.
When Trump revealed the plan earlier, a former federal prosecutors agreed when speaking to the reporters, and said that death penalty cases were very difficult and cumbersome to handle for the prosecutor. He said the U.S. Attorneys’ offices are already pushed for resources, and broadening the scope of the death penalty wouldn’t do them any favors.
In the U.S., the law allows the death penalty to be imposed, for four specific circumstances in federal cases related to drugs. Deaths because of firearms used in crime involving drug trafficking, cases concerning racketeering, concerning a murder that is a part of a crime enterprise as well as, cases where large quantities of drugs are involved.
Utah’s District Attorney Brett Tolman, was also critical of the move, saying the stiffer penalties were already being sought after by the Justice Department. He said that they were seeking to increase the amount of prison time, and couldn’t fathom why Trump wants to push for the death penalty.