Tag Archives: Federal Crime

U. S. Commission On Civil Rights Calls For Sentence Reform

On October 13, 2017, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a Statement supporting certain provisions in the Senate’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017.  The bill proposes to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenses, restore judicial discretion in sentencing in more cases, move sentencing levels down in many cases so that low-level crimes are adequately but not excessively punished, and make retroactive sentencing reductions in crimes involving crack cocaine prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.  U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chair Catherine E. Lhamon said,

The sentencing reduction provisions in this legislation are necessary to hew closer  to the fair administration of justice in our country, and ensure that the criminal justice system does not more harshly judge marginalized communities without basis. I urge Congress to take swift action to correct these injustices.

Established in 1957 by the Civil Rights Act, the Commission on Civil Rights is the only independent, bipartisan federal agency charged with advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing an annual federal civil rights enforcement report.

Former U. S. Attorneys Take Stand Against AG Sessions’ War on Reasonableness

In a September 12th article from the National Review, entitled On Criminal Justice, Sessions Is Returning DOJ to the Failed Policies of the Past, two former U.S. Attorneys (Joyce Vance, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Carter Stewart, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio) contend that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s charging and sentencing policies will not fix the complex problems that plague our justice system.

Those polices, established on May 10, 2017, direct prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” and then “disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimum sentences” and “seek a reasonable sentence under the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553.”  Vance and Carter argue that “this one-size-fits-all policy” does not work and “will roll back previously instituted changes that were beginning to reduce America’s prison population, the justice system’s costs, and crime.”

For a copy of the article, click here.   For a copy of the Attorney General’s May 10th charging policy, click here.  For charging and sentencing policies from previous Attorneys General, click here.

Attorney General Reverses DOJ Policy of Reasonableness in Charging Offenses

Today, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III reversed  a long standing Justice Department of situational appropriate charging in criminal cases and established a new charging and sentencing policy for federal prosecutors, directing them to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” and then “disclose to the sentencing court all facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimum sentences” and “seek a reasonable sentence under the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553.”  If a prosecutor seeks a departure or variance, the prosecutor must obtain approval from a supervisor and “the reasoning must be documented in the file.”

The Attorney General stated that any earlier policy contrary to his directive is rescinded, specifically noting Department Policy on Charging Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Recidivist Enhancements in Certain Drug Cases (August 12, 2013); and Guidance Regarding § 851 Enhancements in Plea Negotiations (September 24, 2014).

The 2013 DOJ policy refined DOJ practices for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders and noted that “mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities.”

The 2014 DOJ policy discouraged the filing of 21 U.S.C. § 851 enhancements, stating that “[a] practice of routinely premising the decision to file an § 851 enhancement solely on whether a defendant is entering a guilty plea, however, is inappropriate and inconsistent with the spirit of the policy.”

According to Sessions, federal prosecutors who no longer follow the prior policies and adhere to this new policy “will meet the high standards required of the Department of Justice for charging and sentencing.”

The Sentinel considers this one-size-fits-all scorched-earth approach to criminal justice nearly as disturbing as Congress’ long successful attempt to strip federal judges of sentencing discretion (as a part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984’s creation of mandatory sentencing and inflexible Sentencing Guidelines – said stripping later reversed by the Supreme Court after more than a decade of prosecutor driven sentencing decisions).

The entire reason for having locally controlled federal prosecutors, local United States Attorneys, appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, is to reasonableness and accountability in criminal investigations and the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and the Sentinel fears that this attack on that discretion is but the first shot in what will turn into AG Session’s war on reasonableness and rationality in federal criminal justice.