Thursday, April 06, 2006

Questioning the Attorney General about drug war failure

On Thursday, April 6, 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appears before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the Department of Justice. From 1980 to 1988, I wrote questions for the Chairman of the committee to ask the Attorney General about federal drug enforcement. In 1986 I wrote the House version of the federal mandatory sentences for crack and powder cocaine to focus on high level traffickers.

There are about as many crack users now as there were in the late 1980s.
According to data published by the White House in March 2004, Americans are buying more than $30 billion worth of cocaine each year. (Table 41) The price of cocaine has fallen greatly since the late 1980s when it should have gone up, and the purity has gotten better, not poorer. (Table 43)

And, as the U.S. Sentencing Commission noted, there is “a widely held perception” that the federal cocaine law “promotes unwarranted disparity based on race.”

Why has the nation’s cocaine problem stayed so serious? Is federal drug enforcement managed properly? Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) could ask Attorney General Gonzales these questions about federal drug enforcement:

Mr. Attorney General, in the overall national anti-drug effort, is the most important job of the Department of Justice to prosecute the highest level international drug traffickers – those beyond the ability of state and local law enforcement to investigate? [AG's anticipated answer, yes]

The states made 325,000 drug trafficking arrests in 2003, and they imprison at least 400,000 persons for drug offenses. Do you agree the states can investigate and prosecute many state and local level drug traffickers? [Yes]

The Department of Justice prosecuted about 26,000 drug cases in FY 2003. Should those drug cases be the nation’s most important drug cases? [Yes]

On March 22, 2006, the Justice Department indicted Erminso Cuevas Cabrera, for allegedly supervising the production and distribution of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia. This is the level of drug trafficker that should be typical of the federal government's cocaine enforcement -- those responsible for hundreds of millions of grams of cocaine, is that correct? [Yes]

According to the study of federal cocaine prosecutions in 2002 by the U.S. Sentencing Commission,
there were almost 10,000 federal cocaine prosecutions in FY 2000 (figure 1, p. 33). What was the average quantity of powder cocaine in the federal high-level international trafficker cases in 2000? [I don't know]

Only 16,000 grams, or less than 35 pounds. (figure 10, p. 45) Visualize a 50-pound bag of sand that you could buy at Home Depot. You could put ten bags like that in the trunk of a car. That is local courier quantity – what gets brought to Silver Spring from Baltimore -- nothing approaching the quantity in a single imported load by boat or airplane. 35 pounds is too low for an average for international high level powder cocaine traffickers.

Almost half of the federal cocaine prosecutions in 2000 were crack prosecutions. Of the 4,706 crack cases prosecuted by the Justice Department, what fraction were of national or international scope? [I don't know]

Only 11.6 percent. (figure 8, p. 42).

What fraction were interstate cases involving a region or section of the country? [I don't know]

Only 13.1 percent. (figure 8, p. 42).

The Sentencing Commission found that 75.3 percent of the federal crack prosecutions involved only local or neighborhood trafficking. (figure 8, p. 42) Does that sound like the right proportion of federal cases to you? [No]

What percentage of the federal crack cases are brought against high-level traffickers such as importers, organizers, wholesalers? [You tell me.]

Only 15.2 percent (figure 6, p. 39). Is it possible that the federal government’s failure to focus on and dismantle the high-level international traffickers explains why crack houses are still in business all around the country? Mr. Attorney General, what is the average weight of crack cocaine sold in the entire course of the conspiracy that federal street-level defendants were involved in? [I don’t know]

Fifty-two grams (figure 10, p. 45), the weight of a candy bar. A candy bar crack case is simply not a federal case. When almost a third of the federal cocaine cases involve a candy bar's weight of cocaine, when the real high level traffickers are involved in hundreds of millions of grams, it seems that the Justice Department is AWOL in our national anti-drug effort.

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