Janet Reno on Crime
Former Attorney General; Democratic Challenger FL Governor
Criticized for losing key cases, but praised for toughness
As Dade County prosecutor, Reno was blamed for failing to obtain a conviction in a case against four white police officers accused in the beating death of a handcuffed African-American. Critics cited a lack of aggressiveness in pursuing public corruption
cases at the local level, charging that she too often deferred to federal prosecutors. Reno’s successes in prosecuting violent crimes and her fearlessness in dealing with Miami’s crime problem helped her reputation as a tough prosecutor.
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed.; Gale Group
, Jan 1, 1999
Against mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes
As US attorney general, Reno’s emphases represented a reorientation from the strategies of increased incarceration and rampant prison building stressed by Republicans.
She criticized mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenses and advocated alternative sentences to permit the use of prison cells for dangerous offenders and persistent recidivists as well as major drug traffickers.
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. (Clinton Cabinet)
, Jan 1, 1999
Opposes death penalty, but willing to apply it
I was personally opposed to the death penalty, and yet I think I have probably asked for the death penalty more than most people in the United States.
I had concluded when I was the prosecutor that I would vote against the death penalty if I were in the legislature but that I could ask for it when I was satisfied as to guilt and to the proper application of the penalty.
Source: Interview with Jim Lehrer
, Nov 23, 1998
Look at potential for rehabilitation when sentencing kids
Q: Should there be tougher penalties for juveniles who commit violent crimes?
A: I think you’ve got to take each child, judge what the crime was, whether he has remorse and understands the implications of what was done.
One of the most difficult problems is a child who does not have a supportive family. All the penalties in the world won’t make any difference if you don’t have after-care.
Source: NEA Today: Online Interview
, Jan 1, 1998
1993: Waco resulted from protecting FBI's credibility
In early 1993, the Waco crisis came to a head. Janet asked about the CS gas and its effects. Janet wanted to know about possible explosions; long-term effects; effects on children.
I asked the general, "Do you see any alternatives?"
the crisp answer.
Janet asked the FBI to prepare a report to answer the question "Why now." The FBI Director continued to stress that David Koresh was a fugitive holding women and children hostage, and that he was responsible for the deaths of several
The negotiator told me he had never been in a situation in which he felt the negotiation was impossible--until now.
The Director made a passionate plea to the effect that not only was Koresh holding women & children, he was destroying
the credibility of the FBI. "Good men have died trying to arrest David Koresh. We have to go in." They went over their plan again for Janet. Go or no-go. It was her call.
"Okay," she said, "Let's go ahead."
The CS gas united, causing many deaths.
Source: Friends in High Places, by Webb Hubbell, p.210-213
, Nov 1, 1997
White collar crime a top priority
White collar crime is one of our top priorities, but white collar crime that preys on particularly fragile people or people at risk is even more important.
So we have tried to make sure that the FBI and the U.S. attorneys provide the resources necessary.
Source: AARP Interview on Clinton Cabinet
, Oct 1, 1997
Constitutional admentment to protect victims’ rights
A constitutional amendment provides the best means to protect the rights of crime victims. Unless the Constitution is amended to ensure basic rights to crime victims, we will never correct the existing imbalance in
this country between defendants’ constitutional rights and the current haphazard patchwork of victims’ rights. While a person arrested for a crime, he is guaranteed certain basic minimum protection under our nation’s most fundamental law,
the victim of that crime has no guarantee of rights beyond those that happen to be provided and enforced in the particular jurisdiction where the crime occurred.
A victims’ rights amendment would ensure that courts will give weight to the interests of victims.
Source: Clinton Cabinet Statement to Judiciary Committee
, Jun 25, 1997
Incarcerate repeat offenders; alternatives for first offense
Attorney General Janet Reno has several key priorities:
Source: Women’s International Center, www.wic.org on Clinton Cabinet
, Feb 11, 1997
- Reduce crime and violence by incarcerating serious, repeat offenders and finding alternative forms of punishment for first time, non-violent offenders.
- Focus on prevention and early intervention efforts to keep children away from gangs, drugs and violence and on the road to strong, healthy and self-sufficient lives.
- Enforce civil rights laws to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans.
Tried & failed to repeal mandatory minimum sentences
[In the congressional omnibus Crime Bill], Reno abandoned her effort to repeal some minimum mandatory sentences. She had long listened to the complaint by some judges and many defense lawyers that the more than 100 mandatory sentences removed discretion
from sentencing and locked away minor offenders. Reno coordinated dealings as when Criminal Division chief urged the House to temper the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” provision. Still, the bill was more favorable to hard-liners’ views than Reno’s.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.304
, Nov 3, 1993
Post-Waco review vindicated Reno & blamed Koresh
[In the wake of 75 deaths in the FBI attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, an independent probe found] “this was the final act of a man who held himself out to be God.” The report dismissed the two primary reasons cited by Reno as justification
of her decision to use tear gas. First, there was no evidence that abuse of children continued after the standoff began. Second, it would have been possible to rotate in relief agents to spell the exhausted Hostage Rescue Team, though the replacements
wouldn’t have been as well-trained.
So Reno had been wrong. But there was no stronger criticism of her in the report than the mention in a footnote that, on the day she authorized the use of tear gas, she “did not read the prepared statement carefully.
The New York Times called the findings ”The Waco Whitewash.“ Reno said she didn’t consider the report a whitewash. ”I wasn’t looking for vindication.“ There was no single reason she authorized the assault, she said; it was an accumulation of factors.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.212-216
, May 13, 1993
Called Waco “the worst day of my life”
Reno awakened at 5 AM on April 19, thinking about the children at the besieged Branch Davidian compound. Final preparations were under way for the FBI raid she had authorized. It was her 38th day as attorney general. She would later call it the worst day
of her life. It also was the day that made her a star.
For 50 days the cult’s messianic leader, David Koresh, had been barricaded in the 70-acre compound with 94 followers by his side. The crisis began after a bungled attempt by the ATF to serve a
search warrant. In the ensuing shootout, 4 ATF members & 6 cult members were killed.
Reno announced the FBI assault plan [after concluding] that waiting would only make matters worse. She insisted on some basic “rules of engagement”: FBI agents would
not fire at the compound, even if fired upon; and if the children were in any way threatened, the agents would back off.
[After three attacks with CS2 gas, the compound burst into flame]. Authorities eventually found 75 bodies, including 25 children.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.186-195
, Apr 19, 1993
Death penalty might be a deterrent, but never proven
[At her Senate confirmation hearings as Attorney General], Reno told Senator Arlen Specter-as she had told many others during her career-
that she had never seen research proving the death penalty was a deterrent to crime. But she then suggested that the death penalty, “carried out in a fair, reasoned way, without delay” might demonstrate deterrence “to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.173
, Mar 9, 1993
Opposes death penalty, but won 103 death convictions
During Reno’s 15 years as state attorney, her office won death sentences 103 times. So it shocked many experts when Reno said on the day of her nomination as U.S. Attorney General that she personally opposed capital punishment.
In the 1980s, Reno couldn’t refuse to press for the death penalty and survive politically. Reno said she took an oath to uphold the law, and the law required her to seek the death penalty. But she used her political capital to argue against it in private
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.102
, Nov 11, 1992
Only justification for death penalty is vengeance
When a father spanks two brothers, and one complains that the father spanked him harder, the father can make up for it with affection. You can solve the inequities in sentencing through probation, pardon, mitigation, parole, clemency. But once death is
carried out, you can’t. I think the only justification for the death penalty is vengeance. If I had found that somebody had murdered my mother, I would tear that person apart. But I don’t think that a civilized soicety can engage in vengeance.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.103
, Nov 11, 1992
Early advocate of community policing
Reno also became an advocate of an old-fashioned brand of law enforcement that now has a fancy name: community policing. In 1992, she helped create a Neighborhood Resource Team consisting of a police officer, a social worker,
a public-health nurse, and a housing advisor. The team went door to door, interviewing residents about their problems. It helped them get medical attention, day care, job training, and more.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.123
, Apr 1, 1992
Created victims’ advocacy program
[In a 1986 speech], Reno declared, “The law is not working and it is a hollow instrument when it sees to it that the man who abuses a child receives medical treatment in prison while it stands idly by and provides no treatment for the child he abused.”
She created a victim’s advocacy program. Reno wanted to have trained counselors available to patiently explain the law, keep track of caase schedules, coordinate witness appearances, and offer comfort during the trial.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.111
, Dec 31, 1986
Page last updated: Jan 21, 2019