Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide in which he laid out the Justice Department’s policy with regard to the prosecution of drug crimes. The memo is a significant change from the department’s policy under former attorney general Eric Holder, who told prosecutors to avoid criminal charges involving mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders.

Sessions’ approach to prosecutorial policy is, instead, to have federal prosecutors pursue the most serious crimes applicable and to ask for the strictest penalties. Prosecutors have been instructed not to ignore drug quantities to avoid trigger strict sentences, as was common under Holder. Critics of the new policy have called it a return to the War on Drugs, which put a heavy focus on incarceration. 

Prosecutorial policy, both at the state and federal level, is something people can argue about all day, but what really matters for criminal defendants is doing everything possible to protect their rights in their case. Whether prosecutors seek the most serious offenses and the strictest penalties, or choose to exercise their discretion by pursuing less serious offenses, the goal in any criminal defense case is to hold the government to its full burden of proof and to take advantage of any protections available in the criminal process.

Understanding how the federal sentencing guidelines work is particularly important in building a solid criminal defense case against federal drug charges. We’ll say more about this in a future post, and how an experienced attorney can help.