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Washington State Officials Weigh in on US Attorney General's Order

Photo courtesy of Victor via Flickr

A call by US attorney General Jeff Sessions to impose the harshest penalties on criminal defendants is not finding much support from the General Counsel for Washington State’s governor.

On Friday US Attorney General Jeff Sessions told federal prosecutors to seek the toughest penalties in criminal cases, and overrode  a 2013 directive from Attorney General Eric Holder that instructed federal prosecutors not to specify the amount of drugs involved when charging low-level and nonviolent drug offenders. That policy effectively gave judges discretion to set sentences lower than the mandatory punishments ranging from five years to life in prison.

The legal counsel for Governor Jay Inslee, Nick Brown, feels that is a bad move.

Brown worked as a federal prosecutor before joining the Inslee team four years ago. He worked on many criminal cases in his previous job, including several drug conspiracy cases. Brown said, “Often times the people you first get awareness on, that law enforcement first identifies, are your low level co-conspirators, the people that are tasked with driving cars. They’re not the decision makers, and you arrest and charge those people. And those people should not be charged and thought of the same as those who are making the decisions, and profit the most. And so when you bring the mandatory minimums, and you’re talking five and ten years, and the impact on their family can be devastating. We should be bringing that harsh penalty to the organizers, but we shouldn’t bring a one-size-fits-all approach to those individuals.”

Sessions' order runs counter to a growing trend in recent years in many states to abandon some of the harshest sentencing policies created in the 1980s-era war on drugs.

Brown says he thinks Sessions' move was a gut reaction to being “tough on crime”, and not based on empirical data that shows those sort of policies make the public safer. He says giving people more flexible sentencing allows them opportunities when they are released, so they don’t commit more crimes.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.