Jeff Sessions, our new Attorney General, issued a Memorandum to all United States Attorneys on May 10, 2017 which states, in relevant part, that “it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense  By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”
This Memorandum represents a significant departure (no pun intended) from the bipartisan support for overhauling the federal criminal justice system that had been intensifying in Congress over the last few years. It also reflects President Trump’s campaign promise to get tough on crime. The general targets of the new policy include narcotics and weapons offenses, and gang violence.
The problem with this Memorandum is that it also reflects a reversal of some of the more intelligent decisions made during the Obama administration concerning the federal criminal justice system, specifically, the treatment of low-level, non-violent drug offenders. For example, former Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal prosecutors to consider the unique facts and circumstances of a particular case, and to exercise discretion in charging narcotics offenses. Significantly, in narcotics cases involving non-violent defendants with minimal criminal histories and no connection to organized crime, Holder instructed US Attorneys to omit information concerning drug quantities from charging documents, thereby avoiding the automatic trigger of harsh penalties. Mr. Sessions’ Memorandum references Mr. Holder’s prior instructions in a footnote, and rescinds them. Continue reading