Is the Trump administration giving the war on drugs a reboot? A recent press statement from Attorney General Jeff Session gives that impression.
Specifically, Sessions has called for more severe penalties for drug crimes, including mandatory minimum sentences. Under the leadership of former attorney general Eric H. Holder, federal prosecutors were encouraged to use their discretion when charging defendants, especially if certain offenses would trigger the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. The eligibility criteria identified defendants who were not associated with large-scale drug trafficking organizations, gangs or cartels.
In contrast to Holder’s approach, Sessions released a two-page memo to federal prosecutors, essentially calling for the drug charges to match the offense. Unfortunately, more criminal charges usually translates into more prison time, in the event of a conviction.
Our criminal defense law firm has helped many defendants facing drug crimes. We have firsthand experience with prosecutorial discretion. Notably, Sessions also stated that the Justice Department did not want to micromanage prosecutors, despite encouraging an overall tougher stance on drug crimes. We interpret that statement as leaving room for negotiations, perhaps a plea deal that will encourage rehabilitation rather than just punishment.
Of course, the threat of mandatory minimum sentences might also result in less bargaining leverage. Prosecutors may use the new enforcement approach to push through less favorable plea bargains. Even then, however, an experienced criminal defense attorney can work for the best outcome. Prosecutors may have heavy caseloads, and a first-time offender or a defendant who has remorse and is committed to seeking treatment may fare better.
Source: Washington Post, “Sessions issues sweeping new criminal charging policy,” Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotosky, May 12, 2017