As the Trump administration grapples with how to address the nation’s growing opioid epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance to federal prosecutors on Wednesday urging them to seek the death penalty in some drug-related cases, a punishment existing law allows in designated circumstances.
“Congress has passed several statutes that provide the department with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes,” Sessions wrote in a one-page memorandum. “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.”
The attorney general indicated that the federal government may seek the death penalty in “appropriate cases,” including instances of murder related to racketeering crimes, gun deaths occurring during drug trafficking crimes and murder related to criminal enterprise. Additionally, Sessions pointed out the “kingpin statute” and encouraged prosecutors to pursue capital punishment in cases “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs,” which U.S. law defines as distributing at least 600 times the amount of a given substance that call for penalties of five to 40 years in prison. According to the Justice Department, however, the death penalty has never been sought in such cases.
Sessions’ memo comes after President Trump’s remarks on the opioid crisis on Monday, during which he called for imposing the death penalty upon some drug dealers.
“Failure is not an option. Addiction is not our future. We will not rest until the end, and I will tell you that this scourge of drug addiction will stop. It will stop,” he said at the time. “We can have all the blue-ribbon committees we want, but if we don’t get tough on drug dealers we’re wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.”