US Prosecutors Told to Push for More, Harsher Punishments - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

US Prosecutors Told to Push for More, Harsher Punishments

Posted: Updated:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks Friday, May 12, 2017 in Washington. (Photo: AP) Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks Friday, May 12, 2017 in Washington. (Photo: AP)

WASHINGTON (AP)- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.
    
The move has long been expected from Sessions, a former federal prosecutor who cut his teeth during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic and who has promised to make combating violence and drugs the Justice Department's top priority.
    
"This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency," Sessions wrote in a memo sent Thursday night to U.S. attorneys and made public early Friday.
    
Advocates quickly criticized the move as a revival of the worst aspects of the drug war, which subjected nonviolent, lower-level offenders to unfairly harsh sentences that disproportionately hurt minority communities.
    
"It looks like we're going to fill the prisons back up after finally getting the federal prison population down," said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "But the social and human costs will be much higher."
    
The announcement is an unmistakable undoing of Obama administration criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a national rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced.
    
Sessions contends a spike in violence in some big cities and the nation's opioid epidemic show the need for a return to tougher tactics. He foreshadowed the plan early in his tenure, when he signaled his strong support for the federal government's continued use of private prisons, reversing another Obama directive to phase out their use.
    
"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. "Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't, and don't, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun."
    
The policy memo says prosecutors should "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" - something more likely to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. Those rules limit a judge's discretion and are typically dictated, for example, by the quantity of drugs involved in a crime.
    
The memo concedes there will be cases in which "good judgment" will warrant a prosecutor to veer from that rule. But any exceptions will need to be approved by top supervisors, and the reasons must be documented, allowing the Justice Department to track the handling of such cases by its 94 U.S. attorney's offices.
    
And even if they opt not to pursue the most serious charges, prosecutors are still required to provide judges with all the details of a case when defendants are sentenced, which could lengthen prison terms.
    
The requirements "place great confidence in our prosecutors and supervisors to apply them in a thoughtful and disciplined manner, with the goal of achieving just and consistent results in federal cases," the memo states.
    
The directive rescinds guidance by Sessions' Democratic predecessor, Eric Holder, who told prosecutors they could in some cases leave drug quantities out of charging documents so as not to trigger long sentences. Holder's 2013 initiative, known as "Smart on Crime," was aimed at encouraging shorter sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and preserving Justice Department resources for more serious and violent criminals.
    
The Obama policy shift coincided with U.S. Sentencing Commission changes that made tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners eligible for early release, and a clemency initiative that freed convicts deemed deserving of a second chance. Combined, those changes led to a steep decline in a federal prison population that now stands at just under 190,000, down from nearly 220,000 in 2013. Nearly half of those inmates are in custody for drug crimes, records show.
    
Obama officials cited that decline and a drop in the overall number of drug prosecutions as evidence that policies were working as intended. They argued prosecutors were getting pickier about the cases they were bringing and were seeking mandatory minimum sentences less often.
    
Still, some prosecutors felt constrained by the Holder directive and expressed concern that they'd lose plea bargaining leverage - and a key inducement for cooperation - without the ability to more freely pursue harsher punishments.
    
The reversal gives prosecutors better tools to go after drug traffickers and gangs, said Lawrence Leiser, head of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.
    
Sessions and other Justice Department officials argue Holder's approach sidestepped federal laws that impose such sentences and created inconsistency across the country in the way defendants are punished. Even while in the Senate, Sessions repeatedly asserted that eliminating mandatory minimums weakened the ability of law enforcement to protect the public.
    
Defense attorneys disagreed.
    
Barry Pollack, head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the new policy "marks a return to the failed policies of past administrations that caused mass incarceration, devastated families and communities, wasted untold millions of dollars and failed to make us any safer."

  • Delmarvawide NewsDelmarvawide NewsMore>>

  • CMS Honors PRMC With 5-Star Rating

    CMS Honors PRMC With 5-Star Rating

    Jan 22, 2018 9:27 PM2018-01-23 02:27:00 GMT
    Monday, January 22 2018 9:35 PM EST2018-01-23 02:35:16 GMT
    The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services awarded the Peninsula Regional Medical Center with a five-star rating this month, making it one of four hospitals in Maryland to receive the honor as well as the second one on the Eastern Shore.More
    The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services awarded the Peninsula Regional Medical Center with a five-star rating this month, making it one of four hospitals in Maryland to receive the honor as well as the second one on the Eastern Shore.More
  • Eagles Fans Excited for Team's Trip to Super Bowl

    Eagles Fans Excited for Team's Trip to Super Bowl

    Jan 22, 2018 7:54 PM2018-01-23 00:54:00 GMT
    Monday, January 22 2018 7:54 PM EST2018-01-23 00:54:10 GMT
    DOVER, Del. --- Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles on Delmarva rejoiced on Sunday as the team advanced to its third Super Bowl in franchise history in a championship rematch with the New England Patriots. Vincent Iovacchini of Clayton was among the thousandsMore
    DOVER, Del. --- Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles on Delmarva rejoiced on Sunday as the team advanced to its third Super Bowl in franchise history in a championship rematch with the New England Patriots. Vincent Iovacchini of Clayton was among the thousandsMore
  • Multiple People Arrested in Dover Drug Investigation

    Multiple People Arrested in Dover Drug Investigation

    Jan 22, 2018 5:15 PM2018-01-22 22:15:00 GMT
    Monday, January 22 2018 5:15 PM EST2018-01-22 22:15:51 GMT
    Jarad Wilson (left), Sean Caldwell and Holly McLaughlinJarad Wilson (left), Sean Caldwell and Holly McLaughlin
    Three people were arrested after a drug investigation, according to Delaware State Police.More
    Three people were arrested after a drug investigation, according to Delaware State Police.More
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Updated: Police Seek 4 Who Robbed Armored Truck Driver in Salisbury

    4 Sought in Armored Truck Robbery in Salisbury

    Jan 22, 2018 8:19 AM2018-01-22 13:19:00 GMT
    Monday, January 22 2018 3:55 PM EST2018-01-22 20:55:57 GMT
    Video surveillance photo of one of the suspects wanted for holding up an armored truck driver filling up an ATM at the SECU on Mt. Hermon Road in Salisbury. (Photo credit: Salisbury Police Department)Video surveillance photo of one of the suspects wanted for holding up an armored truck driver filling up an ATM at the SECU on Mt. Hermon Road in Salisbury. (Photo credit: Salisbury Police Department)
    Salisbury police have released a video surveillance photo of one of the four suspects wanted in connection with the Monday morning armed robbery of an armored truck driver outside the State Employees Credit Union in Salisbury, Maryland.More
    Salisbury police have released a video surveillance photo of one of the four suspects wanted in connection with the Monday morning armed robbery of an armored truck driver outside the State Employees Credit Union in Salisbury, Maryland.More
  • Multiple People Arrested in Dover Drug Investigation

    Multiple People Arrested in Dover Drug Investigation

    Jan 22, 2018 5:15 PM2018-01-22 22:15:00 GMT
    Monday, January 22 2018 5:15 PM EST2018-01-22 22:15:51 GMT
    Jarad Wilson (left), Sean Caldwell and Holly McLaughlinJarad Wilson (left), Sean Caldwell and Holly McLaughlin
    Three people were arrested after a drug investigation, according to Delaware State Police.More
    Three people were arrested after a drug investigation, according to Delaware State Police.More
  • Women's March in Ocean City

    Women's March in Ocean City

    Jan 21, 2018 5:16 PM2018-01-21 22:16:00 GMT
    Sunday, January 21 2018 5:16 PM EST2018-01-21 22:16:28 GMT
    Hundreds of people gathered in Ocean City as part of the 2018 Women's March.More
    Hundreds of people gathered in Ocean City as part of the 2018 Women's March. More
  • Most Popular VideosMost Popular VideosMore>>

  • 4 Sought in Armored Truck Robbery in Salisbury

    4 Sought in Armored Truck Robbery in Salisbury

    Police are looking for four suspects wanted in connection with the armed robbery of an armored truck driver outside the State Employees Credit Union in the 1100 block of Mt. Hermon Road in Salisbury, Maryland.

    Salisbury police said the incident happened at around 7:15 a.m. Monday, and involved four armed black male suspects wearing dark clothing and masks. Following the robbery the suspects ran northbound across U.S. 50. There were no reported injuries.

    More

    Police are looking for four suspects wanted in connection with the armed robbery of an armored truck driver outside the State Employees Credit Union in the 1100 block of Mt. Hermon Road in Salisbury, Maryland.

    Salisbury police said the incident happened at around 7:15 a.m. Monday, and involved four armed black male suspects wearing dark clothing and masks. Following the robbery the suspects ran northbound across U.S. 50. There were no reported injuries.

    More
  • Women's March in Ocean City

    Women's March in Ocean City

    Hundreds of people gathered in Ocean City Sunday afternoon as part of the 2018 Women's March. The march was hosted by the Democratic Women's Club of Worcester County. As WBOC's Caroline Coles reports, the theme of the march was the encouragement of women to vote and run for office on the Eastern Shore.

    More

    Hundreds of people gathered in Ocean City Sunday afternoon as part of the 2018 Women's March. The march was hosted by the Democratic Women's Club of Worcester County. As WBOC's Caroline Coles reports, the theme of the march was the encouragement of women to vote and run for office on the Eastern Shore.

    More
  • Update: Two Dead After Trooper Involved Shooting in Salisbury

    Update: Two Dead After Trooper Involved Shooting in Salisbury

Powered by Frankly

All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 WBOC. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices