In his move to make prosecutions of federal crimes more uniform, John Ashcroft has made a decent and respectable policy decision. There, I said it. I feel so icky.
I have had lots of opinions about John Ashcroft, and until Tuesday they were all negative. The U.S Attorney General is, in my opinion, the biggest threat to civil liberty and personal freedom since Nixon. Not only is he the driving force behind the U.S. Patriot Act, but he has also attempted to limit the sale of any paraphernalia that could possibly be used to smoke marijuana. He has expanded the use of the death penalty. He is so righteous in his right-wing ideology that he was once quoted as saying the only two things in the middle of the road are “moderates and dead skunks,” and how he was neither. Oh yeah, remember the statue of the nude and blindfolded woman holding a scale, the symbol of justice? Ashcroft has had the statue at the Justice Department covered with a scarf. Mussolini would be proud.
On Monday the attorney general sent a memo to every attorney’s office in the country explaining his new mandate. In an excerpt from David Rennie’s article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph Ashcroft is quoted as saying, “It is the policy of the Department of Justice that federal prosecutors must charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense or offences that are supported by the facts of the case, except in limited, narrow circumstances.” My initial impression of this initiative was negative, whereas it means prosecutors now have less freedom over what type of sentence they pursue against certain criminals. Because no two crimes are alike in nature and/or circumstance, it should follow that there needs to be some leeway in how separate crimes are prosecuted; however, the same logic dictates that similar crimes should receive similar sentences even if committed in different jurisdictions.
This is not necessarily the case today, according to Jeff Dorsner, spokesman for the U.S Attorney’s office in Denver. Different districts have different prosecutorial policies around the country, and while he could not specify about which districts were more liberal or conservative than others, he did say that Ashcroft’s new mandate was already the standard practice not only in the Denver office but also in a number of offices around the country. A uniform standard of prosecution is what Ashcroft’s new mandate hopes to achieve; if you commit armed robbery in Maine and get eight to 10 years, you should receive eight to 10 years for armed robbery in Arizona, not two to four and not 20-life. Yes, the guy who holds up a bank with a pink squirt gun and says “please” when asking for the money is getting the short end of the stick for receiving the same punishment as the guy who pistol-whips the teller and urinates on the guard, but both of them are still bank robbers.
There is also a fear that by hamstringing plea bargains and forcing more people into trial or by cutting agreements to reduce sentences in exchange for testimony, our courts will become backlogged. This fear is largely unwarranted whereas it is in the best interests of all sides, including those who advocate a police state, to keep the criminal justice system from getting any more bogged down than it already is. There are exceptions included in the new mandate that provide for leniency in exchange for testimony and the exemption of “fast track” prosecutions which give lower sentences for certain crimes in order to speed them through the system.
While John Ashcroft may be the modern incarnation of Attila the Hun, this new policy should not be grouped with such bureaucratic blunders like the repeal of child labor laws in the 1920s or the Roosevelt Collary of the Monroe Doctrine. Yes, the attorney general’s new directive will, to a certain extent, prevent prosecutors from being human, but it will also help to ensure that people accused and convicted of similar crimes will receive similar punishment regardless of location, age, race or gender.
John Ashcroft has made a decent and respectable policy decision. I hate it when bad people do good things.
Heroes of the week: I love the Denver Broncos! I hate the Raiders more than John Ashcroft, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to see the Raiders get flogged like a felon in Singapore.
Zero of the week: “Jack the Snipper” of Barrington, NH. In a recent series of bizarre incidents female students at the University of New Hampshire were victims of an assailant who would brake into their apartment and cut off their clothing while they slept. While the victims were not assaulted, their clothing was stolen. Weird. Really weird.