A recent memo by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions orders federal prosecutors to seek the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects. This shift in criminal justice defies widespread bipartisan efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system and reverses the Obama administration’s efforts to lower penalties for some nonviolent drug offenses.
Drug Offenses Among Chief Targets
Sessions’ chief targets were gun crimes, gang violence and drug dealing. His March 8, 2017 memo asserted that many violent crimes “are driven by drug trafficking and drug-trafficking organizations.”
He believes that harsher charges and penalties for drug crimes will bring a corresponding reduction in violent crimes.
Sessions’ memo directs prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” even for low-level drug crimes.
Extreme Policies, Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Sessions’ policies are even more extreme than those of President George W. Bush’s administration. The latter had sought mandatory minimum sentences, more uniform punishments and the harshest possible charges.
Sessions wants all that and more, while disregarding major bipartisan efforts to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system – efforts made in Congress and in individual states, some of which already have succeeded.
However, the degree to which his memo’s policies are carried out will be largely dependent on the judgments of attorneys general throughout the country when they press charges.
Individual Circumstances Largely Dismissed
Sessions’ memo replaces the standing policy of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who’d urged prosecutors to weigh individual circumstances in drug crimes. In an effort to reduce America’s rising prison population, Holder had wanted to avoid severe charges and punishments for nonviolent drug defendants with no ties to criminal organizations and with insignificant criminal histories.
Holder told prosecutors to leave out details such as drug quantities from charging documents, so that harsh penalties would not be automatically enforced.
By contrast, while giving few specific details, Sessions dismissed individualizing cases. He told prosecutors that any individual exceptions to ease criminal penalties would have to be documented and approved by U.S. attorneys, assistant attorneys general or their designees.
Sessions Tougher on Non-Violent Defendants
Some attorneys say Sessions’ lack of specific instructions could inhibit prosecutors from giving individual treatment to non-violent defendants, even though such discretion could be warranted.
As a result, harsh mandatory minimum sentences could be applied as punishments even for first-time, non-violent and low-level offenders. In order to seek lesser charges for low-level offenses, prosecutors would have to get approval for such an exception from a U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general.
Others see Sessions’ policies as a retreat to failed 1980s policies in the nation’s disastrous war on drugs – a war which led to thousands of first-time, non-violent defendants facing harsh sentences in already overcrowded prisons.
Get a Tough Defense Lawyer to Fight Tough Policies
If you or a loved one faces a drug charge or other criminal offense, know that you can get a tough defense lawyer to fight overly tough crime policies.
Contact the New Davis Law Firm today for a free legal review of your case.