WASHINGTON, May 12, 2017 — The Department of Justice plans to impose tougher sentences on those convicted of drug crimes. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he has ordered federal prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenders. This reverses an important Obama administration drug policy.
The Obama Department of Justice sought to reduce the number people convicted of some lower-level drug crimes receiving long jail terms. In a May 10 memo, Sessions said prosecutors “should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” calling that a “core principle” of the Justice Department’s charging and sentencing policy.
The Sessions memo undoes former AG Eric Holder’s 2010 order, which called for federal prosecutors to make case-by-case decisions on charging, plea agreements and sentencing recommendations. The decisions were made on the merits of each case.
Sessions’ order also eliminates Holder’s directive to federal prosecutors to “ensure that our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers.”
Sessions also removed limits Holder placed on the use of sentencing enhancement, giving prosecutors the ability to seek harsher sentences in cases based on prior convictions. He wrote, “Prosecutors must disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory-minimum sentences, and should in all cases seek a reasonable sentence under the factors.” Any deviations from the policy require “supervisory approval” from the Justice Department.
Following the announcement by Sessions, Holder criticized the policy, saying it is not tough on crime, but “It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”
This decision by Sessions is the first of many breaks made with Obama administration policies on criminal-justice issues. Sessions has already ordered a review of the DOJ’s consent decrees with local police departments. The decrees were used by the Obama Justice Department as a tool to reform law enforcement agencies.