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Sessions issues memo on use of death penalty in drug-related cases

The memo comes after President Donald Trump called for death sentences for some drug dealers


By PoliceOne Staff

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued a memo to U.S. attorneys about seeking the death penalty for certain drug traffickers.

On Wednesday, Sessions issued the memo that points to the statutes where the death penalty can be applied, The Hill reports. Those statutes include certain racketeering activities, the use of a gun that resulted in a death during a drug trafficking crime and dealing in “extremely large” quantities of drugs.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaks to a gathering of law enforcement officials at the United States Attorney's offices, Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaks to a gathering of law enforcement officials at the United States Attorney's offices, Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

“I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation,” Sessions wrote.

Sessions’ memo comes after President Donald Trump unveiled a three-prong plan to combat the opioid crisis on Monday. The plans calls for reducing the demand and overprescription of opioids, cutting off the supply of illegal drugs and boosting access to treatment.

The plan also included a mandate to the Justice Department to seek the death penalty when appropriate under current law. Trump called for some drug dealers to be sentenced to death, saying "if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time."

It’s possible the administration’s plan could face legal hurdles. Statutes allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty are already embedded in U.S. law, CNBC reports. But 1994 provisions permitting the execution of certain drug traffickers, including those involved in drug-related murders, have never been used, according to the Washington Post.

Sessions said in a previous statement that the Trump administration will "continue to aggressively prosecute drug traffickers and we will use federal law to seek the death penalty wherever appropriate."

According to Sessions’ memo, more than 64,000 Americans were killed by overdoses in 2016, including overdoses caused by fentanyl and its analogues. Drug overdoses now rank as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

“In the face of all of this death, we cannot continue with business as usual,” Sessions said in the memo.

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