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Mass. Prosecutor Targets Drugs, Guns

November 16, 2002

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BOSTON (AP) _ The U.S. attorney in Boston has ordered federal prosecutors to seek longer prison terms for people convicted of drug and gun offenses.

Under U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan’s policy of requiring prosecutors to seek sentence enhancements, a convicted drug dealer’s 10-year sentence could double if he has a prior drug conviction in state court.

``This is a kind of sea change in the practice of this office,″ Sullivan said in Sunday’s Boston Globe. ``I think it’s important that we use the tools that allow for the most significant punishment.″

The move bucks a national trend against lengthy sentences, which critics say too harshly punish indigent, non-violent defendants. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the lengths of federal drug sentences have dropped more than 20 percent in the past decade.

Before Sullivan announced the change internally earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts used their discretion when seeking sentencing enhancements that increase the mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers with previous felony drug convictions.

Now, prosecutors are required to use the enhancements in every applicable case.

``The sentences people are getting are huge and to what end? Just because the government wants to be tough and macho,″ said Attorney Charles Rankin, who heads a group of court-appointed defense lawyers.

Sullivan says the move is about common sense.

``It improves public safety, and beyond that, it sends a message to others,″ he said.

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On the Net:

US Attorney Boston: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/ma/

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