Sessions to federal prosecutors: Go for the toughest possible sentence

Sessions to federal prosecutors: Go for the toughest possible sentence

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Sen. Jeff Sessions at Confirmation Hearing (Doug Christian)
Sen. Jeff Sessions at Confirmation Hearing (Doug Christian)

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants federal prosecutors to throw the book at criminal defendants.

“Prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious readily provable offense … the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” Sessions wrote Wednesday in a Department of Justice memorandum.

The memorandum was sent Thursday to federal prosecutors and was released Friday to the public.

Sessions’ directive represents a reversal from Justice Department policies under the Obama administration that directed federal prosecutors in most circumstances to avoid charging non-violent defendants, such as low-level drug offenders, with crimes that would result in mandatory lengthy incarceration periods.

Sessions in the memorandum outlined Department of Justice protocol for prosecutors who might consider deviating from the new policy.

“There will be circumstances in which good judgement will lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted… Consistent with long-standing Department of Justice policy, any decision to vary from the policy must be approved by a United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, or a supervisor designated by the United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General, and the reasons must be documented in the file.”

Criminal justice reform advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, issued statements Friday blasting Sessions’ memorandum.

“Jeff Sessions is pushing federal prosecutors to reverse progress and repeat a failed experiment — the War on Drugs — that has devastated the lives and rights of millions of Americans, ripping apart families and communities and setting millions, particularly Black people and other people of color, on a vicious cycle of incarceration,” said Udi Ofer, who is the director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice.

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