Sessions to federal prosecutors: Go for the toughest possible sentence

Alvin Kelly
May 26, 2017

"The opioid and heroin epidemic is a contributor to the recent surge of violent crime in America", Sessions said in remarks prepared for a Thursday speech in Charleston, West Virginia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' predecessor says his rollback of Obama-era charging and sentencing policies is "dumb on crime". That approach lessened sentences for some non-violent drug offenses in part of an effort to lower the number of people imprisoned and focus on rehabilitation.

"It ensures that the Department enforces the law fairly and consistently, advances public safety and promotes respect for our legal system", Sessions said in the memo dated on Wednesday. "The Department of Justice should be committed to acquiring the resources it needs to perform and complete a thorough and aggressive investigation into this Administration's ties to Russian Federation, inclusive of the Attorney General, instead of trying to refill our prisons on the backs of vulnerable communities". Some involved in criminal justice during the drug war feared the human effect would look similar. "You had people who weren't able to be responsible fathers for their kids, who weren't able to serve a couple of years for making a mistake, then come home and do better".

More than 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the US.

Tamara notes this marks a return to the "tough-on-crime philosophy of the 1990s". Harvey said the intent was to give federal judges more flexibility in sentencing and reduce prison overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, offered praise for Sessions' new action, saying "law enforcement should side with the victims of crime rather than its perpetrators". If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court. "You collect it by the barrel of a gun".

But Sessions' new charging policy, outlined in a two-page memo and sent to more than 5,000 assistant USA attorneys across the country and all assistant attorneys general in Washington, orders prosecutors to "charge and purse the most serious, readily provable offense" and rescinds Holder's policy immediately.

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The head of a defense attorneys organization says Attorney General Jeff Sessions' directive that prosecutors pursue tougher charges against suspects has stripped them of their ability to seek justice.

Exceptions for what can be charged will only be allowed with approval from a US attorney, an assistant USA attorney general or a designated supervisor. In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancements statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect our Principles of Federal Prosecution.

"As prosecutors, not our job to worry about the prison population".

There are now around 190,000 in federal prison, with about half of the population in prison for drug crimes.

The Harvard Journal on Legislation critiqued the Holder memo as an "expansion of executive", essentially scrutinizing the method used to impose the policy (i.e. without the help of Congress). Prosecutors, too, could use the threat of a mandatory minimum penalty to facilitate plea bargains, and some were irked that Holder's memo stripped them of that tool. "Is he also asking for the most serious charges there?"

Raymond Johnson is a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Birmingham. The change would trigger longer prison sentences. Sessions of Alabama. At one point, Sessions said that "good people" don't do drugs like marijuana and said the reforms would "endanger" Americans.

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