clock menu more-arrow no yes

The head of the DEA is still quite fond of mandatory minimum sentences

Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, remained vague in her testimony on mandatory minimum sentences to Congress.
Michele Leonhart, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, remained vague in her testimony on mandatory minimum sentences to Congress.
Antonio Scorza / AFP via Getty Images

The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration at a congressional hearing Thursday struggled to explain her position on mandatory minimum sentences, the Huffington Post reports.

As part of the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentences require that offenders convicted of certain levels of drug possession always get a minimum sentence of five or more years. But as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce mass incarceration in America and reform the war on drugs, the Obama administration has endorsed the Smarter Sentencing Act to loosen mandatory minimum sentences.

When asked about whether she supports the Smarter Sentencing Act, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart was vague. The Huffington Post reports:

"I do believe that mandatory minimums have been very effective in our work over these many years, and we hope that we can maintain that tool. On the other hand, I am aware that there are a number of initiatives that are being supported by the attorney general to look at the bigger problem of prison overcrowding," Leonhart said.

"We support the attorney general's initiatives under Smart on Crime," Leonhart said later, in response to a question from [Representative John] Conyers [D-MI].

"And that includes the reduction of mandatory minimums, which is part of the Smarter Sentencing Act?" Conyers asked.

"We support the initiatives forwarded by the attorney general," Leonhart responded. Conyers suggested there was "a certain contradiction between your response to this question and other comments that you've made here today before the committee."

As the Huffington Post also reported, Leonhart's answers on Thursday differed starkly from her more straightforward comments in May about mandatory minimum sentences.

"Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years, [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work for DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations," Leonhart said. "We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences are going to the … level of violator we are going after."