Sessions: Changes coming to policies on drug charges

http://www.politico.com/blogs/under-the-radar/2017/03/sessions-drug-charges-235853

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling that the Trump administration plans to make changes to policies the Obama administration implemented to seek less serious charges in some drug cases. In a memo sent to federal prosecutors nationwide Wednesday, Sessions called on them to crack down on violent crime. Most surely already view that as a core part of their duties. However, another passage in the directive says changes in Justice Department charging policies are in the offing. "I encourage you to employ the full complement of federal law to address the problem of violent crime in your district," Sessions wrote. "Further guidance and support in executing this priority — including an updated memo on charging for all criminal cases — will be forthcoming. "Legal experts said the language indicates that Sessions is planning to make significant revisions to policies Attorney General Eric Holder issued in 2010 backing away from prior directions that prosecutors seek the most serious viable charges in every case and in 2013 calling for prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimum sentences in some cases by leaving the quantity of drugs seized out of charging documents. "My take is the Holder memo is toast," said Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman. "Holder said you don’t have to charge mandatory minimums and it looks like they’re going to say, ‘Oh, yes, you do have to.’ "Sessions has said repeatedly, before and after being sworn in last month, that believes recent increases in murders are not an aberration but a product of a drop in prosecution of drug and gun crimes during President Barack Obama’s terms in office.The focus the new attorney general is putting on violent crime could shift resources away from other Justice Department activities, such as prosecuting cybercrime and business frauds. The re-ordering of priorities could also adversely impact environmental and civil rights enforcement, although such cases are usually handled primarily from DOJ headquarters.Berman said the memos from above probably matter less than the inclinations of prosecutors in the field. If new Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys push for more aggressive handling of cases, defendants could be looking at more serious charges and longer prison terms in the coming years.

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