AG Jeff Sessions Reinstates Mandatory Minimum Sentences For Non-Violent Offenders

By Bryan Le 05/15/17

The Attorney General ordered all federal prosecutors to pursue the harshest sentences possible for non-violent drug offenders.

Alabama Senator and incoming US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the crowd with US President-elect Donald J. Trump at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Sessions is turning back the clock on drug policy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to Department of Justice prosecutors last week, ordering the reinstatement of mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. 

Sessions’ order rolls back the “Holder memo,” issued by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which ordered federal prosecutors to withhold information about the amount of drugs when dealing with low-level, non-violent drug offenders. Harsher sentences are tied to larger amounts of drugs, so withholding this information allowed judges to be more lenient. Advocates of Holder's decisions say that mandatory minimums disproportionately affect minorities and overcrowd U.S. prisons.

Sessions is not a fan of this leniency. At an opioid abuse summit, Sessions mentioned that he believes strict law enforcement is key to solving the drug crisis. "It is a big, critical part of it. We’re on a bad trend right now. We've got too much complacency about drugs. Too much talk about recreational drugs," Sessions said.

To this end, Sessions has reverted back to the policy of pursuing the harshest possible sentence. "It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense," Sessions wrote in the memo.

However, Sessions does admit in the memo that there “will be circumstances” in which a “strict application” of this policy isn’t warranted and that in these cases prosecutors should “carefully consider” making exceptions. Without specifics about these exceptions, it is difficult to tell the extent of the memo’s impact.

Regardless, the move has found critics among legal experts. "It can't be emphasized enough that the direction they're pointing is 180 degrees wrong," says David Alan Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Stanford Law School. "Mandatory minimums have had a terrible effect on the American criminal justice system, and we need to retreat further from their use, not return to the patterns of usage a decade ago."

Former AG Eric Holder himself had some choice words for Sessions. "The policy announced today is not tough on crime. 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," Holder said in a statement responding to the memo.

AG Sessions has previously said that marijuana is not good for America.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter

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