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Sessions urges U.S. attorneys to pursue death penalty in drug cases

Jeff Sessions claps and looks on as Trump talks with his right hands stretched out
Photo: Mandel Ngan / Getty

As a response to the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions "strongly encouraged" U.S. attorneys to pursue the death penalty in applicable drug-related cases in a memo sent on Wednesday morning, saying "we cannot continue with business as usual."

Why it matters: President Trump has repeatedly suggested that drug dealers receive the death penalty, as a way to confront the U.S. opioid epidemic and "general drug crisis."

Thanks mostly to a 1994 law signed by then-President Bill Clinton during the crack cocaine epidemic, prosecutors can legally pursue the death penalty for:

  • Leaders of illegal drug enterprises that either make $20 million a year or involved a large quantity of illegal drugs.
  • Certain racketeering cases that involve murder.
  • When someone was murdered as part of a drug trafficking enterprise.
  • When a firearm was used and killed someone during drug trafficking.
  • Attempting, assisting with, or allowing the murder of a law enforcement official, juror or witness in a case involving a large drug trafficking conspiracies, even if such killing is not seen through.