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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks Calling for a Legislative Fix to the Armed Career Criminal Act


Little Rock, AR
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you Cody, for that generous introduction and thank you for your eight years of service as a prosecutor.

On behalf of President Donald Trump—I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today:

  • Dana Nichols of ATF
  • Justin King of DEA
  • Jay Truck with the Marshals Service
  • Diane Upchurch of FBI
  • Frank Trevino of ICE
  • Tamera Cantu of IRS
  • Eddie Towe and our Postal Inspectors, and
  • Chris Prewitt with Secret Service.

And while we are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, we also understand and appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.  It is simple arithmetic that we cannot succeed without you.

And so I want to thank:

  • Chairman John Allison and Colonel Bill Bryant of the Arkansas State Police
  • President Scott Bradley of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association
  • Sheriffs Brown, Jones, Holladay, Hollenbeck, and Ryals, 
  • Chief Buckner, Chief Davis, and
  • 20 state prosecutors.

Thank you all for being here.  And on behalf of President Trump, thank you for your service.

This Department of Justice has listened to you and we want to be a force multiplier for you.  We want to give you the tools that you need to be successful and to keep dangerous criminals behind bars.

But right now—because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision holding that the definition of violent felony was too vague—we are missing one of the most important law enforcement tools we had.  The Johnson case is quite significant.

Regardless of the merits of the Court’s decision, the consequences have been devastating for Americans across the country.

This court decision led to the release of a man from right here in Little Rock.

Eight months after he was released from prison, he was arrested for aggravated assault and domestic battery.  A year after that he was arrested for kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, battery, and terroristic threats.  He is accused of raping a 62-year old woman and an autistic homeless man.

This court ruling also led to the release of a man who allegedly punched a pregnant woman at a nightclub in Forrest City.  When police intervened, he allegedly assaulted three of them, cutting one of them on the forehead.

A man from Pine Bluff got his 15 year sentence cut in half.  A year later, he got into an argument with a co-worker. 

According to the allegations against him, the co-worker turned around to walk away when the defendant sucker-punched him, broke his nose and eye sockets, chipped a tooth and busted his lip.

Two of these criminals I’ve talked about are now back in prison.  They were let out of prison, reoffended, and now they’re back in prison.

But the consequences are not limited to Arkansas.  This is a nationwide problem and it’s a cause for deep concern.

In Utah, a career criminal released by this decision tortured and murdered two teenagers and then threw their bodies down a mineshaft.

A released career criminal in California allegedly murdered his father, carjacked a vehicle and killed the driver.

In Oregon, a released career criminal held a Subway sandwich shop hostage and then shot a police officer just 18 days after he was released.

Sadly, I could go on and on.

So why did this happen?

The Supreme Court struck down part of a law called the Armed Career Criminal Act.  It had been on the books for 30 years and applied thousands of times.

This is the law that requires a minimum 15- year sentence for felons caught with a firearm after their third violent felony or serious drug trafficking conviction.

These are not the mythical “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders,” who we are always told are being excessively imprisoned.  These are criminals who have already committed multiple serious offenses and then were caught with a gun.

This is no little matter.  In 2016, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that nearly seven out of ten career criminals reoffended after being released.  Federal firearms offenders were found to be the most likely to be rearrested of any category. These criminals are both.  They are career criminals and firearms offenders.

I was a United States Attorney before the Armed Career Criminal Act—and I was United States Attorney afterward.  I’ve seen its importance firsthand as we worked to reduce crime in America.

Nationwide, the Supreme Court’s decision has resulted in more than 1,400 violent career criminals back onto our streets—including 18 here in Arkansas.  Nine of these Arkansas criminals have already been arrested again.

Six-hundred of those 1,400 criminals have been arrested again.  It’s only been three years since the Court decision, but 42 percent have already reoffended.

On average, these 600 criminals have been arrested or reoffended three times in the last three years.  A majority of those who have been out of prison for just two years have been arrested again. Releasing repeat offenders has consequences.

Every crime committed by a recidivist released by this court case would not have happened.   Every one of their victims would not have been victimized.

We must fix the law so violent career criminals are not let out of jail early.

Their recidivism rate is staggering indeed, but let’s remember: this is still likely an underrepresentation of their illegal activity.  Any law officer in this room will tell you that criminals rarely get caught on their first offense.  We can only imagine how many crimes they have really committed and how many innocent people they have victimized.

Releasing hardened criminals into our communities before they serve their minimum term is not fair to crime victims.

And it is not fair to law enforcement.  You shouldn’t have to go into danger time and again to arrest the same people.

Congress and our legislatures need to help us and consider legislation that protects the public.

We need Congress to fix the law so that we can keep violent career criminals off of our streets.  That shouldn’t be controversial.

Fortunately, some Members of Congress are helping.  My good friend Senator Cotton understands this issue.  He is working on legislation that is intended to fix this problem for good—and I want to thank him for his outstanding leadership on criminal justice issues.

We should look for effective and proven ways to reduce recidivism, but we must also recognize that simply reducing sentences without reducing recidivism unfairly creates more victims.

Some people seem to think that crime rates are like the tides—that they just go up and down and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But you and I know that’s wrong.

Effective law enforcement can bring down crime rates.  We make a difference every day across America.

The professionals in law enforcement know what works to reduce crime. We’ve been studying this and working on this for 40 years.

If somebody disagrees with that, then they should consider this: from 1964 to 1980, the overall violent crime rate tripled.  Robbery tripled.  Rape tripled.  Aggravated assault nearly tripled.  Murder doubled.

And then, from 1991 to 2014, violent crime dropped by half.  Murder dropped by half.  So did aggravated assault.  Rape decreased by more than a third, and robbery plummeted by nearly two-thirds.

That wasn’t a coincidence.  Between that big rise and that big decline, President Reagan and the great Attorney General Ed Meese went to work.

There was the elimination of parole, the Speedy Trial Act, the elimination of bail on appeal, increased bail for dangerous criminals before trial, the issuing of sentencing guidelines.  In certain cases, mandatory minimum sentences—including, yes, the Armed Career Criminal Act.

We increased funding for the DEA, FBI, ATF, and federal prosecutors. And most states and cities followed Reagan’s lead.  Professionalism and training dramatically increased in local law enforcement.

These were the biggest changes in law enforcement since the founding of this country.  These laws were critical to re-establishing public safety.  We can’t afford to lose them.

I was a federal prosecutor before these changes.  And I was a federal prosecutor after these changes.  I can tell you firsthand that they made a difference.

And it’s easy to see why.  When a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing hard time, he is a lot more willing to cooperate with prosecutors.  On the other hand, when the sentence is uncertain, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance.

The certainty of a significant and fixed sentence helps us get criminals to hand over their bosses, the kingpins and the cartel leaders—and helps remove entire gangs and criminals from the street.  Left unaddressed these organizations only get richer, stronger, more arrogant, and more violent, placing whole neighborhoods in fear.

Maybe this is obvious, but a recidivist can’t hurt the community if he is incarcerated.  A lot of people who would have committed crimes in the 1990s and 2000s didn’t because they were locked up.  Murders were cut in half after 1980.

How many did not die or suffer because of the historic decline in crime? We want to achieve those same results again.

And we need to.  Because in the years before President Trump took office, violent crime was surging in America.

From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Robberies went up.  Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent.  Murder increased by more than 20 percent.

Here in Arkansas, the change was even more dramatic.

The overall violent crime rate went up by nearly 15 percent.  Aggravated assault by nearly 16 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 21 percent.  And murder went up by nearly 29 percent.

I want the law officers in this room to know that this Department of Justice understands what you have been going through.  We are listening to you. 

We are in this fight together.

Our goal is not to fill up the prisons.  Our goal is to reduce crime and to keep every American safe. 

We should not keep people in prison longer than necessary. But proven policies and clear and certain punishment do in fact make America safer.

The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me a clear order. And, let me tell you, Donald Trump knows how to give a clear order.  He told me to “reduce crime in America.”  Not to preside over ever-increasing crime.  He wants us to take action and bring down crime.

Unlike a lot of politicians, he understands that we worked together to reduce crime once—and we can do it again.

Congress helped us then and we need their help now.

Thank you again for having me here today.  It is always an honor to speak to you—the front lines of our nation’s law enforcement.  

In this joint effort, you can be certain about this: we have your backs and you have our thanks.

Violent Crime
Updated August 7, 2018