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AG calls on federal prosecutors to adopt harsher charging policies

In an earlier post, our blog discussed how Attorney General Jeff Sessions made it very clear upon assuming the role of the nation's top cop that he would be departing from the efforts of his predecessors. Indeed, in a memo to federal prosecutors in March, he indicated that cracking down on violent crime would be a top priority of the Justice Department going forward rather than reducing the nation's prison population

Interestingly enough, Sessions issued another memo to federal prosecutors just last week, calling for an even more significant departure from previous enforcement strategies and, perhaps more significantly, definitively establishing the "tough on crime" approach the DOJ intends to take in the coming years.

In the one-and-a-half page memo, Sessions firstly sets forth the instructions that federal prosecutors are to follow for charging decisions going forward: "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense."

As to what constitutes "serious" offenses, he later defined them as those carrying "the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences."

More significantly, Sessions also announced the formal end of a key portion of the DOJ's "Smart on Crime" initiative introduced by former AG Eric Holder back in 2013. Specifically, the portion calling for federal prosecutors to focus efforts on the most serious crimes, and reduce the number of drug offenders being sent to prison for non-violent offenses calling for mandatory minimum sentences.

In other words, Sessions' memo announced the abolishment of the four-factor test dictating that drug charges potentially resulting in a mandatory minimum sentence could not be pursued if:

  • The defendant's conduct didn't involve possession of a weapon, a threat of violence, actual violence or death;
  • The defendant didn't manage, lead or organize others within a criminal enterprise;
  • The defendant had no connections to any large-scale drug trafficking networks; and
  • The defendant had no prior convictions.

In the short time since the memo has been released, it's generated significant controversy with everyone from former AG Holder to the American Civil Liberties Union, with all roundly condemning the agency's new direction and characterizing it as a step back.

It will be interesting to see what transpires …

Now perhaps more than ever, if you are under investigation or have been charged with any manner of federal drug crime, it's absolutely imperative to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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