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

Sessions issues memo on use of death penalty in drug-related cases
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Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Laura Ingraham: Migrant child detention centers 'essentially summer camps' Senate chaplain offers prayer 'as children are being separated from their parents' MORE on Wednesday issued a memo to U.S. attorneys about seeking the death penalty for some drug traffickers, which was part of President TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE’s plan to combat the opioid epidemic released earlier this week.

“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.

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The memo points to statutes where the death penalty can be used, including certain racketeering activities, the use of a gun that resulted in a death during a drug trafficking crime, murder in advancing a criminal enterprise and dealing in “extremely large” quantities of drugs.

The death penalty has never been sought before for those dealing large quantities of drugs, according to a Justice Department official. 

On Monday, Trump unveiled a three-pronged plan to fight the opioid epidemic: reducing the demand and overprescription of opioids, cutting off the supply of illegal drugs and boosting access to treatment.

It included a mandate to the Justice Department to seek the death penalty when appropriate under current law, a controversial move that’s received push back from human rights and criminal justice advocates.

Trump has consistently advocated for the idea in recent weeks, and he said while unveiling his plan in New Hampshire Monday that "if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time."

It’s possible the move could face legal hurdles.

Under long established United States Supreme Court precedent it's unconstitutional to use the death penalty for any offense that does not result in death,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The national nonprofit providing information on death penalty issues doesn’t take a position on the death penalty, but has been critical about how it’s been administered.

The opioid epidemic has swept across the country and shows no sign of abating. Deaths involving opioids increased nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.