Most crimes in the criminal justice system are prosecuted by state prosecutors in Maryland and other states instead of the federal government. However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a crackdown on crimes and promised to seek longer sentences for convicted criminals. Justice Department officials hope that the states adopt this tougher position.
Sessions recently sent a memorandum to federal prosecutors with instructions that they should seek the most stringent sentences allowed under the law. This reverses the Obama administration policy of providing more discretion to prosecutors and emphasizing prosecutions of repeat offenders and defendants who committed more serious offenses.
In May, a bipartisan group of two dozen state attorneys general and district attorneys sent an open letter criticizing this new approach. They argued that emphasizing mandatory minimum sentences will increase the number of inmates in federal prisons and inflate incarceration costs.
One prosecutor complained that this new policy is a return to failed attempts from the 80s and 90s to crack down on crime that led to inequitable drug prosecutions for simply possessing illegal drugs. Others have claimed that this policy is ambiguous on drug possession which should be treated as a health problem.
Civil rights advocacy organizations criticized the Trump administration’s reliance on data showing a rising rate of crime across the country. They argued that statistics indicates that violent crime dropped over the last 20 years. Organizations also object to sentencing trends where blacks and Latinos receive harsher penalties compared to whites convicted of the same crimes.
The National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, a group consisting of 1,500 of the 5,700 total federal prosecutors, opposed the last administration’s policy on less severe sentencing. Its president said that crime increased as the prison population dropped.
States have supported criminal justice reforms, however. One Southern state recently enacted reforms allowing nonviolent criminals to receive probation and parole and lowering court fees, fines and restitution for felons discharged from prison. Another state’s voters approved a measure last year asking its lawmakers to reduce its prison population and lowering several drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
These new policies may have harsher long-term consequences. An attorney can provide advice and guidance to a person facing a criminal charge.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Atty. Gen. Sessions wants to get tough on crime. These people think he’s got it all wrong,” Jaweed Kaleem and Kurtis Lee, June 23, 2017