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Are prosecutors pursuing mandatory minimum sentences?

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently issued a memo to the 94 U.S. attorney offices across the country, encouraging a tougher stance in drug prosecutions.

Specifically, Session encouraged prosecutors to pursue every available drug charge, even if those additional charges might trigger mandatory minimum sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences allow prosecutors to seek enhanced prison terms for drug, firearm and violent crimes. In practice, prosecutors might pursue a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for a drug possession arrest of 1 kilogram of heroin, or 5 kilograms of cocaine (about 11 pounds), or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana (over 2,000 pounds).

The memo reverses the Obama administration’s approach of not charging low-level drug offenders with crimes that would trigger longer sentences, especially if they were not involved in drug trafficking.

The rationale is divided on this issue. Some commentators say that charging low-level offenders detracts from limited prosecutorial and court resources, leaving them with less time to pursue the large-scale drug offenders. It is also unclear whether longer sentences deter repeat offenders.

As a law firm that focuses on criminal defense, we understand the practical impact of mandatory minimum sentencing. Prosecutors often have discretion whether to pursue mandatory minimum sentencing. In plea negotiations, a defendant might agree to a guilty plea in exchange for avoiding those triggers. At the same time, prosecutors often have busy dockets and limited time. An experienced attorney will be able to pursue the best option for a client in plea negotiations.

Source: USA Today, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacts harsher charging, sentencing policy,” Kevin Johnson, May 12, 2017

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