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Prosecuting Federal Drug Laws

Jun 8, 2015
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Mike Hunter is an Assistant U.S. Attorney. In this episode, he details his role in the criminal justice system. From Fourth Amendment advice for federal agents making a bust to deciding which cases to take, when to seek indictments, and who to make plea agreements with, Mike tells us how he makes choices in pursuit of justice. Mike is a graduate of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Transcript

Host:

From LawHub, this is I Am The Law, a podcast where we talk with lawyers about their jobs to shed light on how they fit into the larger legal ecosystem. In this episode, Debby Merritt interviews an Assistant US Attorney who discusses a prosecutor's role in law enforcement investigations and what would happen if marijuana became legal across the US.

Debby Merritt:

We're joined today by Mike Hunter, a federal prosecutor who graduated from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 2003. Welcome to the show.

Mike Hunter:

Thank you very much for having me. And I suppose the first thing I should say is the opinions that I give here today are mine and don't necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Debby Merritt:

We appreciate that and also appreciate you being here. Now, before attending law school, you spent eight years in the Air Force investigating criminal activity. After law school, you followed an interesting path to reach the current position, which is an assistant US Attorney here in Ohio. Mike, tell us briefly about your post law school job experiences.

Mike Hunter:

Well, I was working in a small law firm in Cleveland, and very quickly realized that criminal and civil defense just wasn't where my heart was at. I was a criminal investigator by trade in the Air Force and that really was where my interests lied. I realized that I wanted to be a federal prosecutor. And, so I left Cleveland, moved to Washington DC, I slept on an air mattress in my sister's apartment for about six weeks until I got a job. I caught on as a legislative assistant with then congressman, now Senator, Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania. That led into me taking a job a year and a half out of law school as a paralegal in the US Attorney's Office. And I was very fortunate in that I met a gentleman by the name of John Fisher, now the Honorable. John Fisher, who was the chief of the appellate division in the US Attorney's Office in DC.

And after meeting him about two weeks later, he was nominated by President Bush to go to the DC Court of Appeals, and I begged him to take me with him as one of his first set of law clerks. I did and clerking for Judge Fisher, opened a gateway back for me into the US Attorney's Office. And so, in 2006, I started as an Assistant US Attorney in the District of Columbia.

Debby Merritt:

And then you moved on to Columbus later on?

Mike Hunter:

That's right. About two years in the US Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia. Even though I was a sworn federal prosecutor, I was enforcing state and local law, everything from shootings and stabbings to prostitution and car theft. After two years of job opening, came up in the US Attorney's Office here in Columbus. So, in 2008, I came back home to Columbus and started off as a project safe childhood prosecutor, which meant I started off doing child pornography and child exploitation cases, which I did for about four years.

Debby Merritt:

Mike, would you say that's a typical path for somebody entering the US Attorney's Office? Do people usually work first as local or state prosecutors?

Mike Hunter:

I think that it's a pretty common path to get in. It used to be a very common path. It would take about five years of real world or practical experience, typically, in the former working in prosecutor's office to get into a US Attorney's Office. Of the last few years, I think we're hiring more attorneys with less experience. So, I think there's been more of a push towards that. I definitely do think that whereas probably 10 years ago, it would've been necessary to get four or five years of courtroom experience before you're going to be considered for an opening in a US Attorney's Office, I think that's less the case now. I think their US Attorney's Offices across the country are more apt to take somebody in with less experience these days.

Debby Merritt:

Would they hire directly out of law school or do the attorneys have some practical experience first?

Mike Hunter:

The Department of Justice honors program actually hires attorneys right out of law school into US Attorney's Offices usually on a term appointment of a couple years. Primarily, one of the great ways into the US Attorney's Office is exactly what I did, which is through the District of Columbia office, which is the largest US Attorney's Office in the country. They have a law clerk hiring program where they literally hire attorneys that have done one year clerkship either in federal or state court.

Debby Merritt:

That's good to know, because then the individuals get that experience doing more of a local state type of caseload in the district, but still have a path into the federal system.

Mike Hunter:

I think it's exactly right. The US Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia had about 350 AUSAs while I was there. And very quickly, you see that people do three or four years there and then kind of scatter out across prosecutor's offices across the country.

Debby Merritt:

Let's talk a bit about the scattering of those offices. Why don't you explain the structure of our federal prosecution system?

Mike Hunter:

The US Attorney's Offices are scattered around 94 judicial districts throughout the United States and the US territories. Some states only have one judicial district. For example, the state of Montana is one district. Here in the state of Ohio, for another example, it's divided into two districts, the northern and the Southern District of Ohio. So, within any given judicial district, you might have a number of US Attorneys' Offices. For example, here in the Southern District of Ohio, we have offices in the Columbus, where I work, and then the Dayton and Cincinnati offices.

Within each of those separate US Attorneys' Offices, you'll have a criminal division and a civil division, the criminal division primarily focus on enforcing violations of the United States code. Everything from the things that you'll typically think of when you think of federal statutes, like bank robbery and wire fraud, into areas that have certainly burgeoned in the last five or 10 years, like child pornography and child exploitation offenses. I primarily do narcotics offenses, which is another big area federal prosecution. And then in each office, you'll also have a civil division that primarily acts as the government's lawyers. We defend the government in a lot of employment related activities, tort related claims, everything from medical malpractice to slip and falls at a VA facility, and we also actually have an assistant that also practices in federal bankruptcy court in a financial litigations unit that helps recover judgements that the United States has won.

Debby Merritt:

I want to talk some more about your own workload, but before we do, explain to us whether these are political or career appointments, do you have to worry about who wins the White House next time?

Mike Hunter:

We're very fortunate in that the vast majority of Assistant US Attorney positions are career appointments, were appointed by an attorney general and it's a career appointment. The only political appointees in the US Attorney's Offices are the United States attorney themselves. For example, here in the Southern District of Ohio, Carter Stewart has been the US Attorney for six years. He was appointed by President Obama and he serves at the pleasure of President Obama. It's not uncommon that you'll find a US Attorney's Office where you'll have a United States attorney that has served 10 years or more and is actually served through various administrations. So, there is a political appointee component to it, but it's usually only the top figure in the office, and then it's not along strictly political lines.

Debby Merritt:

Mike, when you refer to a career appointment, you mean that in contrast to a political one. Am I understanding that correctly?

Mike Hunter:

Yeah, that's correct. It's a full-time position. It's not set for any number of years. In fact, you'll find people that have worked in a US Attorney's Office as Assistant US Attorneys for more than 25 years.

Debby Merritt:

It's not subject to political favors?

Mike Hunter:

That's correct. And I think that's actually really one of the really wonderful things about being an Assistant US Attorney is that in that way, most officers are very insulated from political pressure. You have essentially a career staff of full-time Assistant US Attorneys, and it doesn't change depending on which party is in power in the White House.

Debby Merritt:

Let's talk now about your own caseload. You mentioned starting out in a ChildSafe program. What was that about?

Mike Hunter:

Yeah, I was the project Safe Childhood prosecutor and then ultimately coordinator for the Southern District of Ohio for about four years, and what I primarily focused on were child pornography and child exploitation cases, what we would call traveler cases, which would be typically grown men that were using the facilities of the internet to set up sexual encounters with minors. I did those type of cases for about four years. I switched over to do major narcotics cases in a program that's called OCDETF, Organized Crime Drug Trafficking Task Force.

That's a fancy way of explaining major narcotics cases, typically involving interstate transport of drugs, typically, drugs that are coming to the United States from foreign countries, and typically, our cases span many jurisdictions. I've been doing those type of cases for about three and a half years, and in fact, earlier this month, I stepped up and I'm now the chief of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task force for the Southern District of Ohio, which means I have attorneys that I supervise in the Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati office. I sign off and usually approve most of the major narcotics cases in the Southern District of Ohio.

Debby Merritt:

Congratulations on the promotion.

Mike Hunter:

Thank you.

Debby Merritt:

Tell us now what this means on a daily basis. What do you do in order to prosecute narcotics cases?

Mike Hunter:

Well, my day typically starts at about seven o'clock in the morning. I get into the office early. I start off my day by reviewing... I set Lexis law alerts, so that I'm taking in case law or updates in case law from the Sixth Circuit in US Supreme Court on search and seizure issues, different statutes that I deal with on a daily basis. I typically figure out what I've have scheduled in court. I'm in court probably four or five days a week, often multiple court appearances in any given day during the week. I return a lot of emails and phone calls to defense attorneys that I have cases with, normally just checking on the status of a case, trying to work out and resolve plea agreements. And I do a lot of my coordination with my case agents that are doing long-term investigations that I'm at the helm of and helping direct.

Debby Merritt:

Tell us a bit about how an investigation starts. What's your role in the investigation?

Mike Hunter:

I think that's actually one of the great things about being an assistant US Attorney is that you are on the ground floor of any investigation that's being initiated that you're going to have a part of. Typically, an agent will... There'll be some event, whether it's surveillance by law enforcement, perhaps an arrest, a seizure, an agent has identified some person or some group as a federal target. I'll talk about my world of narcotics investigations. For example, there could be a traffic stop or a large amount of drugs have been seized. Oftentimes, I'll get a call from the side of the road from the investigator saying, this is what we have. Do you think this rises to the level of a federal prosecution? And if it's evident on the face, for example, 10 kilograms of heroin, the answer would very likely be yes.

And then even from that point forward, I will start helping them decide the next steps in the investigation. That can be anything from making a decision about do we arrest somebody that night? Do we search the car? Do we apply for a search warrant? Are there additional locations that we might be able to access? Do we see that vehicle leaving from a particular residence? Is there enough evidence for us to then secure a search warrant for that residence for additional narcotics or the tools of the trade that you would expect to find with narcotics, drug ledgers, digital scales, packaging materials, things like that.

So, oftentimes, it starts with an event and you can be off and running from the very first phone call about making decisions on the case. Other times, it can be a little more protracted where you'll have an investigation where there's been a lot of surveillance done of a suspected group, and you're approving things like the application for a GPS warrant to put on somebody's vehicle to track their movements, to the securing and executing of search warrants on particular residences, and all the way up to Title III or wire taps for a particular investigation, which the US Attorneys are typically the point person for submitting those applications to main justice.

So, a lot of times, it's a call from the field, and you're off and running.

Debby Merritt:

Do you ever get calls that require immediate advice on Fourth Amendment issues, like a agent calls and says, this is what happened, can I open the trunk of the car or can I look in the window of the house?

Mike Hunter:

I would say, on almost a weekly basis, I get almost exactly that kind of a phone call from a case agent. I mentioned before, I start my morning every day by looking at some Lexis alerts for Fourth Amendment issues, Fifth Amendment issues, particular statutes that come into play a lot in my line of work in narcotics. But yeah, you very much have to be abreast of those type of almost law school hypotheticals about a particular search. We have an arrest warrant for this person, but they just ran into somebody else's house. Do we have to secure a search warrant for that person or being go in based on the arrest warrant? We've stopped a vehicle and the dog is alerted to the trunk of the vehicle. Do we have to apply for a search warrant or is that dog hit enough for probable cause to search the vehicle?

Those are the calls that we get on almost a weekly basis. And so, you have to be first a good listener and then you have to be able to do a very quick analysis because a lot of times, you're making real-time decisions on search and seizure issues that could be at the linchpin of the case.

Debby Merritt:

And you can't just tell the agent, hold on, the Supreme Court will let us know next week.

Mike Hunter:

Typically, they're asking for realtime information. I can't tell you the amount of times I've stood in my kitchen at one o'clock in the morning talking on my cell phone trying to reason my way through a Fourth Amendment issue.

Debby Merritt:

What's the investigation part if the case is wrapped up. What comes next?

Mike Hunter:

Well, federal charges are typically brought in a couple of different ways. Can the initial charging document can be an arrest warrant or a complaint? And that's where an agent drafts an affidavit of probable cause supporting an arrest warrant and a complaint for an individual, and that serves as a basis to arrest that individual. Often time in federal cases, our cases begin by us presenting the evidence to a grand jury and actually seeking an indictment.

Debby Merritt:

What does that mean to present the case to the grand jury?

Mike Hunter:

The grand jury is a body of citizens between 12 and 23 citizens that sit. They're drawn in the same way that we draw a trial jury. They sit by designation here in the Southern District of Ohio either for 18 months or 12 months. And what they do is they... We always say that a grand jury stands between the prosecutor's office and the courthouse. Any federal case that we're going to seek indictment on before we can actually bring that charge in federal court, we have to present the case to a body of citizens and convince them that there's at least probable cause for us to bring the criminal charges. So, on a typical week, I'm in front of a grand jury and I'm presenting law enforcement witnesses, civilian witnesses, presenting evidence to establish probable cause for the charges I'm bringing. The grand jury is the first line of getting to say thumbs up or thumbs down to the federal government about what charges are actually going to be brought into federal court.

Debby Merritt:

Does the grand jury also get to hear from the defendant?

Mike Hunter:

They don't. It's not an adversarial process. It really is... It's really a screening process. We present the case, I'm the only attorney that's in the room. The Department of Justice puts an obligation on us if there's any exculpatory information that we must present that. At the same time, we're presenting our evidence to the grand jury. But it's a very one-sided process. I'm the only lawyer in the room, I present the witnesses and the evidence that I believe establishes probable cause for the charges, with the caveat that I have to present any exculpatory evidence to the grand jury at the same time.

Debby Merritt:

So, that explains the old statement that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Mike Hunter:

It does. But let me say this, if a US Attorney's Office and federal law enforcement is doing their job in a first place, then it should be not a very high bar to get over. You're only talking about probable cause, and if you have the resources to be doing surveillance and long-term investigations, you should be able to gather enough evidence, so that by the time that you want to take a case into the grand jury, you're presenting them not only enough evidence to establish probable cause, but sufficient evidence is you should be able to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, that's what the Department of Justice standards call for. We are not to bring cases into the grand jury unless we're confident that we can establish those cases beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. It is true that the grand jury in the vast majority of cases is going to find a true bill or find that probable cause has been presented, but that's not a high bar to get over. And if we're doing our job, that really shouldn't be too difficult of a hurdle for us to reach.

Debby Merritt:

Like most of us, you've probably watched TV cop shows and movies about prosecutors. What would you say is most different in real life from what you've seen on the video screen?

Mike Hunter:

I think that prosecutors all across the country, and no less so in federal court, really have difficulty with the expectation that real life is a lot like a CSI episode that law enforcement has all this forensic capability and capacity. I think juries come in with a natural predisposition to expect fiber evidence and fingerprint evidence and DNA evidence, and it just doesn't match with the reality. And we actually call it the CSI effect. When you're selecting a jury or when you're arguing a federal case, it's often the case that one of the things that you're going to have to account for is that expectation of forensic and scientific evidence. I had a trial in April where I had an agent on the stand that said in 20 years, they had recovered two fingerprints that they were able to actually match up with a defendant. People don't expect that answer out of a federal law enforcement agent, given I think a lot of what they see from the shows like NCIS and CSI.

Debby Merritt:

That is extraordinary. Even as somebody who teaches evidence and who works in a prosecution misdemeanor clinic, I never would've thought that the ratio was that low. I would've expected fingerprints in at least half the cases.

You also mentioned that you spend a lot of time talking with defense lawyers on the phone. Tell us about that process. I imagine, they're asking you to dismiss charges or to give a favorable plea to their client.

Mike Hunter:

Yeah. In almost every case that comes into the federal system, once we've made the decision to charge somebody either through a bill of information, an arrest warrant, an indictment, in some cases, you'll often start the plea, negotiating process very early on. What our office tries to do is get out discovery or the arrest reports, the photos, the interviews to the defense attorney as quickly as we can. And then we start talking about is there a way that we're going to resolve this case short of trial? In frequent discussion with defense attorneys about either an arrest that's just been made, an indictment that's been returned, and if there's a way forward for us to resolve the case without resorting to trial.

Debby Merritt:

What are some of the things that a defendant can do in order to improve his or her status?

Mike Hunter:

I think I can speak to that generally, but I'll talk specifically in the realm of narcotics because it's what I do these days. There's a tremendous incentive for defendants in the federal system to cooperate with law enforcement. And the typical scenario would go like this, you might catch somebody with a seizure of a large quantity of narcotics, they would then be interested in telling us where those narcotics came from or perhaps where those narcotics were going to. So, typically, we would do what we call a proffer letter, which is an agreement by which the defendant could sit down and talk with us without any of that information being used against them. And if they provide accurate information that's assistance to us in resolving the case or perhaps arresting, convicting other defendants, then that opens the door for the possibility of us filing a motion to reduce their sentence at the time of sentencing.

In the federal system, we use the sentencing guidelines. And you start with a very high number. For example, an offense level of 32 may correspond to a sentence of 121 to 151 months. The lower your number comes down, the lower the total of months that you're facing. In the example of somebody who's caught with say, 10 kilograms of cocaine, if they start out an offense level of 32, them coming to the table and accepting responsibility would lower that number by three levels, and then them cooperating might lower that number by an additional number. So, you end up with an offense level, for example, of 25, which might only correspond to a guideline range of 46 to 57 months, by cooperating, by accepting responsibility and agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement, in many instances, defendants can right out of the gate, reduce their guideline exposure by 50%.

Debby Merritt:

How often do you actually go to trial?

Mike Hunter:

In most US Attorney's Offices, if you're doing one to two trials a year, that's a pretty good pace. Here in the Southern District of Ohio, I think the statistics for the last couple years are that 95-96% of our cases resolve themselves with a plea agreement. And I think I should take some time to explain why that is. I always say it's a very luxurious practice of law. We have federal agents that are doing long-term investigations and have every tool at their disclosure, search warrants, GPS warrants surveillance, in some instances, Title III, wire taps are authorized by the courts. So, hopefully, if we've done a long-term investigation and got our ducks in a row, by the time that we decide to pull the trigger and arrest somebody or take a case to the grand jury for indictment, hopefully, it's not a who done it anymore. And so, in that instance, a lot of our cases really should resolve themselves with the plea because by the time that we actually take the action of charging somebody, we should have established sufficient evidence that we're very confident we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Debby Merritt:

And then the defendants have these incentives to play in order to get a lesser sentence.

I think we've all heard the phrase prosecutorial discretion. Could you explain to listeners what exactly that means?

Mike Hunter:

Yeah, I'm going to give a very lawyerly answer in that prosecutorial discretion is exercised on a case by case basis. When a case comes in, there might be a wide range of federal charges that could be brought. And since I toil in the world of narcotics, let me give you an example. If you caught somebody and they had more than five kilograms of cocaine and you could prove that they were possessing it with the intent to distribute it, they could be charged with a 10 to life offense under Title 21, section 841. However, the Department of Justice in the last few years is coming out with more guidance where there's less of a preference towards mandatory minimum sentences. So, that same amount of cocaine, that five kilograms of cocaine could be charged under the same statutes only without any reference to the amount of it. And so, somebody could then decrease their exposure from a 10 to life offense to a zero to 20 year offense.

That's an example of prosecutorial discretion. We have an offense that could be charged a couple of different ways. And at the front end of it, we would get the decision on how to charge that case. Sometimes, a case will be resolved with a plea to a lesser offense as the case goes on. But often, we make those decisions upfront. The other side of prosecutorial discretion is what cases we take. We are very lucky. We're not a bus, we don't have to make every stop in the US Attorney's Office. Quite frequently, we're pitched cases by law enforcement, and we have to make a decision of whether or not that actually rises to the level of a federal case if there's an actual federal interest in the case.

Debby Merritt:

What do you mean by a case that has a federal interest?

Mike Hunter:

That's always a difficult one to explain in a real concrete way. Our office, and I think every US Attorney's Office in the country has prosecutorial guidelines where we try to set certain thresholds or certain criteria by which a case rises to the level of a federal prosecution. In the narcotics world, it could be a quantity or it could be a preference towards a defendant that has a violent history or a violent background. There is a United States Attorney's manual that offers us national guidance that we shouldn't take any case unless we're confident that we're going to be able to develop the evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and actually convict somebody at trial. So, those two standards act as gatekeepers as to what's going to come in the office in the first place. But it gets mushy.

You'll find a case where you have a little bit of a lot of federal interest. You might have a fairly large amount of narcotics that's maybe right at the threshold, but a very violent defendant. Or you might have a defendant who's not particularly violent, but a very large amount of narcotics. It's like the definition of pornography that you know it when you see. It's often hard to define exactly what a federal interest is, but I think that you it when you see it. And those are the type of discussions that we're having every day in our office.

Debby Merritt:

So, there are crimes that you don't prosecute, but that the state and local authorities might prosecute. That's the line you're trying to draw between federal and state interest, is that right?

Mike Hunter:

That's exactly right. And it's not an easy line to draw. For example, there are certainly state laws that prohibit somebody robbing a bank, there are also federal laws that prohibit that. Whether a case is going to stay at the state level or go federal, it's not an easy line to draw in many cases.

Debby Merritt:

Mike, the dark side of prosecutorial discretion is that this is where political influence can creep in. How do the US Attorney's Offices handle that? Make sure that a prosecutor is an influenced by the fact that say it's the governor's daughter who was just arrested?

Mike Hunter:

I think that the very structure of the way US Attorney's Offices are set up really does insulate prosecutors. And I can say for myself in almost nine years as a federal prosecutor, I've never felt any political pressure to do or to not do a case. And what I mean by the structure of the US Attorney's Office is that you have, for example, in the Columbus office, I think there's 17 or 18 of us that are what I call line AUSAs that are actually prosecuting criminal cases on a daily basis. Above that, you have one supervisor who's also a career prosecutor who's not a political appointee. And then one step up, you'll have the actual US Attorney who is a political appointee. It's very rare that I'll actually discuss a particular case with the United States attorney. They're more concerned about the direction of the office, they're more concerned with budgetary issues. And so, you don't have a lot of input from the one political appointee who's in the office on the cases that we do on a daily basis.

So, I think the structure of the office really insulates the prosecutors that are bringing cases into court every day from any kind of political pressure. And I think the other thing, and it's the old cliche from Justice Jackson, is that our job is to do justice. It's not to simply win convictions or to target people or to settle scores. It really is to do justice, to figure out where it makes the most sense to allocate our resources for legitimate cases that have a federal interest that should be readily apparent on the face of the case. In nine years, I don't think I've ever had to make political calculations.

Debby Merritt:

You've already mentioned a number of things that you really like about your job. What about drawbacks? What are the things that make you groan?

Mike Hunter:

I can't answer that question without first saying that I really do love my job every day. I'm excited to come to work. Still gives me a charge to go into court and say, "Michael Hunter on behalf of the United States." Even after nine years, the thrill of that never goes away for me. I think that probably like any prosecutor, you always feel like you're spread a little thin. You really want to be a good partner to the federal law enforcement agents and partners that you're working with in the community. And the reality is that you have to say no more than you would like to. You would like to take on every case because there are many that have a federal interest and have really great investigative work being done. But all too frequently, the reality is there are 48 counties in the Southern District of Ohio, and we don't even have 48 Assistant US Attorneys.

I'm there prosecuting criminal cases in the district. So, the reality is that you can't say yes to all the cases that might actually merit the prosecution, and that's probably the toughest part of my job. Having a very good agent who's done very good work, present a case to you and say, it either doesn't rise to the level of a federal interest or there's just not enough hours in the day to say yes to every case.

Debby Merritt:

Let's look just a little bit towards a partly imaginary future. There's a movement among the states now to legalize marijuana. If that catches on and goes nationwide, what kind of impact do you think that will have on your practice?

Mike Hunter:

The most honest answer is I don't know exactly what to expect, but I would answer it two ways. One, I would say that the types and quantities of marijuana that the federal government's typically prosecuting, I don't think under any legalization regime are going to be cases that are not going to be prosecuted. And what I mean by that is I think the smallest marijuana case that I've done in almost nine years as a federal prosecutor was several hundred kilos of marijuana. The last big one that I can remember doing was more than 5,000 kilos of marijuana, which was actually about $5 million in street value worth of marijuana. I don't think that you're going to see a scenario or a regime in which that type of large scale trafficking is ever going to be legalized. So, I don't think it's going to impact, at least in the immediate future, the type of cases that the federal government's doing because I think we've set our thresholds very, very high.

We're typically are only targeting the large scale traffickers of marijuana. And typically, those quantities of marijuana are coming across the border from Mexico and not being actually grown here in the United States.

But the other way that I would answer that, and it really goes back to what I don't know is, I think it's a really interesting social experiment that's going on in Colorado and Oregon at this point, because for the longest time, I'm a criminology major in undergrad right here at Ohio State, and we had many, many discussions in the late 90s about drug legalization. I think one of the arguments against it was the notion that marijuana was a gateway drug in that the use of marijuana would lead to addiction to harder substances like heroin and methamphetamine and cocaine. And I think in five or 10 years, we're going to have the data that's going to say whether or not that parade of horribles has occurred.

Debby Merritt:

Let me take that question just one step further. I don't think we'll ever legalize all drugs. I certainly hope we don't legalize heroin, for example. But let's suppose for some reason Congress decided to turn all drug enforcement back to the States. What would that do to your caseload in the federal office? Would there be other types of cases that you think your office would pursue?

Mike Hunter:

Yeah. If anybody ever wants to pick up the United States Code and take a look at it, it's very hefty and there are a lot of things in there. I really think that we've seen such an increase in the last 10 years in child exploitation, online exploitation, child pornography offenses. There literally aren't enough prosecutors and agents to work all of those cases that are out there now. I could really see a shift in focus, assuming that there was a decrease in drug prosecutions. I also think that we're really on the cusp of a new air of computer intrusion, some of those type of crimes.

I think, again, there's probably not enough prosecutors and agents out there to investigate all those crimes. So, I really do think that the United States Code has enough breadth to it that you're going to... There's plenty of work to be done out there. It really is just a question of the allocation of resources. And I think U.S. Attorneys' Offices across the country are always asking themselves, what should we be putting our resources? What should be our prosecutorial priorities? If drug prosecution was on the decline... I really do think that there's plenty of federal work to go around even if drugs are no longer a major component of that work.

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