By: Denise Simon | Founders Code
The White House on Thursday proposed removing certain penalties associated with the trafficking of fentanyl-related substances (FRS), prompting criticism that it would weaken illicit drug enforcement.
President Biden and former President Trump temporarily placed FRS under schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Thursday’s proposal would make that change permanent while removing certain quantity-based mandatory minimums.
In a letter to Senate leaders reviewed by Fox News, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) described the plan as the result of collaboration with the Justice Department (DOJ) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“We are pleased to present to Congress a long-term, consensus approach that advances efforts to reduce the supply and availability of illicitly manufactured FRS while protecting civil rights, and reducing barriers to scientific research for all schedule I substances,” said ONDCP acting Director Regina LaBelle.
LaBelle added that “the proposal would exclude those FRS that are scheduled by class from certain quantity-based mandatory minimum penalties normally associated with domestic trafficking, and import and export offenses of CSA schedule I compounds.”
“It would further ensure that a federal court can vacate or reduce the sentence of an individual convicted of an offense involving an individual FRS that is subsequently removed or rescheduled from schedule I.”
The letter came amid a spike in fentanyl deaths, which some Republicans have blamed on the administration’s border enforcement.
April of this year alone saw a 233% increase in fentanyl seizures at the southern border, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Fentanyl, a dangerous opioid, is significantly stronger than heroin and the related opioid carfentanyl is even stronger than fentanyl.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., slammed the Biden administration’s proposal for being soft on criminals who are pushing fentanyl and killing Americans.
“Fentanyl analogues kill thousands of Americans each year. To protect our communities from the dealers pushing this poison, President Biden needs to keep them off the streets, not let them off the hook,” said Cotton in a statement to Fox News.
A Senate aide also told Fox News the proposal wasn’t serious and would encourage illicit drug labs. “This is not a serious proposal. It’s nothing more than a compromise between mainstream Democrats and pro-crime Democrats, and would only encourage illicit Chinese drug labs to get creative again with new fentanyl variants,” the aide said.
The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Thursday’s proposal raises questions about how the Biden administration will continue the previous president’s fight against an opioid epidemic that has ravaged communities across the U.S.
In May, Biden extended a rule from Trump’s DOJ by signing the Extending Temporary Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act, which lasts until Oct. 22.
LaBelle added that Congress should approve $41 billion in spending for national drug program agencies, as well as continue working on legislation designed to counter overdoses.
“Expanding the nation’s public health approach to substance use disorders and strengthening our public safety efforts to reduce the drug supply are essential parts of our strategy to bringing down the rates of overdose death,” said LaBelle.
“Acting to permanently schedule FRS, combined with historic investments in the addiction infrastructure, as well as efforts to tackle illicit finance and disrupt drug trafficking, will stand as the most comprehensive effort to address substance use and its consequences in our nation’s history. In all these efforts, we look forward to working with Congress to support safe and healthy communities. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.
Prosecutors dropped all charges in 16.9 percent of the 38,635 felony cases that were closed in New York City during 2020, according to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The year before, that rate was just 8.7 percent and the average for 2016 to 2019 was an even lower 8 percent, the statistics show.
Even though far fewer cases were disposed of last year, the 6,522 defendants whose charges were dropped exceeded the 5,985 who weren’t prosecuted in 2019.
The total number of cases closed in 2020 plunged by a massive 44.1 percent last year amid court closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic — down from 69,119 the year before.
A law enforcement source said there were “a lot of layers to the problem,” including veteran prosecutors retiring or leaving for other jobs and “inexperienced [prosecutors] and cops making it harder to do trials,” as well as the political nature of DAs’ jobs.
“The DAs are worried about getting re-elected,” the source said.
“Plus, you throw in a bucket of ‘woke’ and no one is getting prosecuted.”
The source also pointed to controversial, recently enacted laws governing the disclosure of evidence to the defense, known as “discovery.”
“Now, if someone takes a plea, you still have to provide the discovery information even though the case is closed,” the source said.
“Before, you didn’t have to. If you DP [decline to prosecute] a case, there is no discovery.”
The borough with the highest number of felony cases that weren’t prosecuted last year was the Bronx, where DA Darcel Clark dumped 2,408, or 28.5 percent.
Another 2,365 cases, or 28 percent, were dismissed by judges, helping push the rate at which defendants were convicted and sentenced in the Bronx to a dismal 27.4 percent, down from 44.2 percent in 2019.
But that number was even lower in Brooklyn, where it dropped to just 21.1 percent last year from 41.5 percent in 2019.
DA Eric Gonzalez declined to prosecute 2,206 cases, or 17.8 percent, and judges dismissed more than twice as many: 5,335 or 42.9 percent.
In Manhattan, outgoing DA Cyrus Vance Jr. declined to prosecute 11.7 percent of the cases disposed of last year, up from 7.6 percent in 2019.
Only two boroughs saw district attorneys decline to prosecute cases last year at rates that didn’t reach double digits.
In Queens, under DA Melinda Katz, the number was 9.9 percent, up from 5 percent in 2019, and on Staten Island, under DA Michael McMahon, it was 8.2 percent, up from 4.8 percent.
Last year’s increase in the proportion of cases abandoned by prosecutors was also accompanied by steep decreases in the number of convictions and sentences of incarceration, the statistics show.
Just 7.4 percent of defendants 18 and older were convicted of felonies and 10.5 percent were convicted of misdemeanors, compared to 12.1 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively, in 2019.
And only 3.8 percent of cases that began as felonies resulted in judges sending criminals to prison for a year or more or to jail for shorter terms during 2020.
In 2019, prison sentences were handed down in 7 percent of cases and jail sentences in 7.2 percent of cases.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and adjunct professor at the city’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was outraged by the situation, saying, “There’s so many people that will lose their lives because of that.”
“Eventually, it’s all going to backfire,” he said.
“It’s going to take its course, like everything else. The pendulum will swing back the other way, and they’ll stop electing people who are pretending to be a district attorney in name only.”
A Bronx DA spokeswoman said, “We prosecute cases when there is legally sufficient evidence. We decline to prosecute or defer prosecution in cases where police may need to gather more evidence or secure the cooperation of witnesses so that the case can move forward.”
“It is our duty as prosecutors to ethically assess each arrest as it comes in and determine if it is legally sufficient to proceed,” spokeswoman Denisse Moreno added.
A Gonzalez spokesperson said his office “led the way” at the height of the pandemic last year “by announcing that we would decline to prosecute low-level and non-violent cases in response to the public health emergency.”
“We have since resumed our pre-pandemic practice, which includes robust diversion programs wherein we decline prosecution if individuals successfully complete their requirements,” the spokesperson said.
“The fact that homicides and shootings in Brooklyn have decreased by over 20 percent compared to last year and major crime is down 5 percent proves that our approach has been successful and kept the public safe.”
A McMahon spokeswoman declined to comment and none of the spokespersons for the other DAs’ offices immediately returned requests for comment.
A spokesman for the Office of Court Administration declined to comment on behalf of the city’s judiciary.