The Department of Justice rescinded Obama-era prosecution guidelines that restricted the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in a memo sent to U.S. attorneys Thursday night.
The memo calls for prosecutors to pursue charges that call for higher prison sentences. Former Attorney General Eric Holder implemented prosecution and sentencing policy that made it so many criminals avoided being charged with minimum mandatory sentences. While criminal justice reform advocates claim that this is beneficial to “low-level offenders,” an individual needs to have 1,000 kilograms of marijuana in order to trigger the ten-year minimum mandatory sentence.
The ability of prosecutors to use mandatory minimums for drug possession will also help in efforts to take down drug conspiracies. Steven Cook is a federal prosecutor from Tennessee and has had a key role in the Sessions Justice Department. He told The Washington Post in a recent interview that Holder’s 2013 memo “handcuffed prosecutors.”
“And it limited when enhancements can be used to increase penalties, an important leverage when you’re dealing with a career offender in getting them to cooperate,” Cook added.
Back when he was a senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fought against sentencing reform. “Federally convicted criminals are generally serious criminals, kingpins, cartel members, and non-citizens. The federal prison population is already falling rapidly and dangerously,” Sessions said in a 2016 statement. The memo that he sent to the 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices will likely increase the federal prison population.
Before the Holder memo, prosecutors operated under a directive from former Attorney General John Ashcroft that also told them to seek the most serious charge possible. The Sessions memo, however, allows prosecutors some discretion, although they need written permission from a supervisor if they wish to not pursue the charge with the highest sentencing guidelines.
This will allow the Justice Department to keep U.S. attorneys accountable. This directive will effectively lead to more prosecutions and higher sentences and will work to fulfill the attorney general’s goal of a tough on crime policy.
Sessions has been harping in speeches since entering office that a rise in violent crime in many American cities is not an aberration.
“My fear is that this surge in violent crime is not a ‘blip,’ but the start of a dangerous new trend — one that puts at risk the hard-won gains that have made our country a safer place,” Sessions said in a recent speech to police chiefs. “While we can hope for the best, hope is not a strategy. We must act decisively at all levels — federal, state and local — to reverse this rise in violent crime and ensure public safety.”