Federal Prosecutors Encouraged to Seek Maximum Penalties in Criminal Cases
In a recent memorandum to federal prosecutors, Attorney General Jeff Sessions advised prosecutors to charge people suspected of federal crimes with the most serious offense they can prove, arguing that “the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence.”
The memo pushes federal prosecutors to reverse course after eight years of following instructions from Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, who recommended that prosecutors choose more lenient charges when appropriate.
Holder’s instructions had focused specifically on mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of nonviolent drug offenses. By contrast, Sessions argues that failing to prosecute low-level drug offenses heavily has led to more serious crimes, including drug trafficking and related violence.
While the memo is “advisory” only, allowing prosecutors to seek permission from their supervisors to charge suspects with lower-level offenses, most federal prosecutors are likely to follow the instructions from their Attorney General, according to Natasha Frost, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Professor Frost also notes that while there is little evidence linking harsher sentences to reduced crime rates, there is substantial evidence linking harsher sentences to increased incarceration rates. In other words, while there is little proof that charging federal suspects more severely will lead to less crime, there is evidence that doing so will lead to an increased federal prison population, with more people serving sentences and lengthier sentences being served.
In February 2017, Sessions also reversed a policy that would have phased out the federal government’s use of private prisons. Currently, the federal prison system includes 13 privately-run prisons, housing approximately 22,000 people.
If you’re facing criminal charges in New Jersey, working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer offers your best opportunity to fight those charges and to obtain the best possible results. Don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer who will help you understand the charges and defend your rights.