Despite few noticing, a key sentencing commission is whittling away at insane drug sentences. Here's how:

Amid all the far-flung examples given about the Obama administration’s hatred for the rule of law and the “imperial presidency,” there’s one issue that’s largely flown under the radar: Eric Holder and the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s attempts to reduce the prison sentences of non-violent drug criminals during the administration’s second term.

The Sentencing Commission, which recommends guidelines for federal crimes that judges look to when applying sentences, voted earlier this year to alter its formula for certain non-violent drug trafficking sentences — in effect lowering those sentences. Those guidelines go into place this November, barring congressional action to block them.

On Friday, the Sentencing Commission made an even more dramatic move: it voted, unanimously, to apply full retroactivity of the new guidelines to those sentenced before they go into effect. Once again, unless Congress gets in the way, some 46,000 prisoners — about a quarter of the federal prison population — will be able to petition judges to have their sentences reduced, perhaps by a matter of years. This change goes even farther than what Holder and the Justice Department had been recommending, which would have only affected some 27,000 prisoners. After the commission’s vote, however, Holder came out in support of full retroactivity.

The department looks forward to implementing this plan to reduce sentences for certain incarcerated individuals. We have been in ongoing discussions with the Commission during its deliberations on this issue, and conveyed the department’s support for this balanced approach. In the interest of fairness, it makes sense to apply changes to the sentencing guidelines retroactively, and the idea of a one-year implementation delay will adequately address public safety concerns by ensuring that judges have adequate time to consider whether an eligible individual is an appropriate candidate for a reduced sentence. At my direction, the Bureau of Prisons will begin notifying federal inmates of the opportunity to apply for a reduction in sentence immediately. This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system.”

This comes in addition to Holder’s plan to prioritize clemency petitions for certain non-violent offenders. His Justice Department also announced last year that it would try to steer prosecutors away from pursuing mandatory minimum sentences. Elimination of federal mandatory minimum sentences would require congressional action.

Which isn’t impossible. A number of libertarian-tinged Republicans — most notably Sen. Rand Paul – agree with Holder and most Democrats that sending (mostly black) people to jail for carrying some drugs is a relic of harsh, dated approaches to the War on Drugs that don’t make much sense anymore. Even Republicans like Rick Perry and Grover Norquist are working to promote “smart on crime” approaches that give judges more flexibility in their sentencing for drug crimes. Had the Sentencing Commission and Holder made such moves even just a decade ago, there’s no question they would have been lambasted by Republicans — The Obama administration is setting dangerous drug addicts into the streets to eat your babies, et cetera. And yet, after the announcement Friday, there was relatively silence from the party, even though we’re just ahead of midterm elections.

But even if the GOP is becoming more of a Rand Paul party in the drug sentencing arena, the old-style, anti-drug Republican element isn’t dead yet. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, for example, was able to pass an appropriations committee amendment defunding enforcement of the District of Columbia’s new marijuana decriminalization law. That the Obama administration would issue a veto threat of the appropriations bill containing that provision, however, still shows that the middle-ground on drug policy is shifting.

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

I have not given the blog the attention it deserves.  I hope you understand that I have been busy defending the accused and getting just compensation for those injured by the negligence of others.

On the Careless Driving trial, the jury hung with 5 of 6 voting not guilty.  The prosecutor finally made a reasonable offer and we accepted.  We sure wanted to win, but my client wanted to move on with his life.  Careless Driving can be won in Boulder County - do not give in just because the prosecutor refuses to negotiate.

I have been learning Spanish on the Duolingo app for the iPhone.  It is decent, but I need to spend some time in a Spanish household.

Colorado NORML voted to keep me as a board member.  I am no longer the Secretary, and have been promoted to Treasurer.  We continue to advocate for the rights of medical and recreational marijuana users.  Please visit the website, facebook page and twitter feed.  We will keep you apprised of important events. 

I have enjoyed some free time mountain biking, hiking and playing tennis. 

A wonderful ski season with lots of powder has passed.  As much as I loved it, I am so happy that warm weather is on its way.  The mountain bike is fully tuned and I am ready to ride.

Trial next week on a Careless Driving charge.  The Boulder District Attorney has a policy of not offering any plea bargains on Careless Driving.  We have a strong defense and I hope the jury finds for us.  Not all car crashes are the result of careless driving.

I am happy to report that solid investigation and honest dealing with a decent prosecutor is resulting in the dismissal of a sexual assault charge against my client.  The accusation was false from the start.  There were red flags that I could see in the 911 call and initial report.  We found reasons not to trust the accuser.  For some reason the police and prosecution did not follow up on these issues.  I did and solidified them.  These facts were powerful for a defense at trial, but we did not stop there.  We issued a subpoena to the sex assault accuser.  When she knew we would fight this, she finally spoke to us in an interview and told the truth.  My client was facing life in prison but now will be able to live a normal life, work and raise his kids.  Real sexual assault (rape) is terrible and needs to be punished, but few things are more terrible than being falsely convicted of rape.  We are thrilled that we could avoid a trial where anything could have happened.

In the past few weeks, I have been able to get satisfactory deals for 2 clients with felony domestic violence DV charges.  Neither deserved a felony and both clients are very happy.  It would have been fun to try these cases and we had strong defenses, but often a guaranteed deal is better than the risk of trial.  It is also much cheaper.

I enjoyed learning more about DUI law and science at the recent CCDB Breckenridge seminar.  I look forward to spending a week learning trial skills at the Trial Lawyers College Grad II program in August.  It has been too long since I have been to Gerry Spence's ranch.  I have not yet decided whether I will attend the NORML Legal Committee program in Aspen.