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Will Sessions' memo affect criminal defendants?

The latest news about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be about what he know about the meeting between President Trump and ousted FBI Director James Comey. But one piece of news that may not garner headlines is Sessions’ efforts to roll back Obama era efforts on criminal justice reform. A recent report, highlights his instructions to federal prosecutors across the nation about the Justice Department’s new stance on drug crimes.

Essentially, Sessions directed prosecutors to “seek the strongest possible charges and sentences against defendants they target.”

Under previous U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, these sentences were only pursued against high-level drug trafficking (as opposed to drug possession) defendants, as well as violent offenders. The nation’s prison population and state overcrowding problems, along with mounting data showing that stiff jail sentences were not working, prompted this change in sentencing policy.

While some may see this as an abrupt change in policy, it may be more about the discretion of federal prosecutors, who are arguably the most influential people in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors have wide discretion to increase or decrease potential punishments and can set the landscape for plea deals, which govern about 90 percent of criminal cases.

Despite this influence, a seasoned criminal defense attorney can still be very helpful. After all prosecutors will ultimately approve plea deals based on additional arguments and evidence presented by a defense attorney.

Because of this, a experienced criminal defense lawyer can still be invaluable despite policy directions given to prosecutors.

The preceding is not legal advice. 

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