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What Sessions' recent memo means for federal criminal defendants

After nearly five years of criminal justice reform regarding drug crime prosecutions and sentencing, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be rolling back such efforts. According to a recent report, Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors across the nation to “seek the strongest possible charges and sentences against defendants they target.”

Before Sessions’ memo, these sentences were reserved for the most serious, high-level offenses, where violence was involved. They also provided some semblance of justice for low-level offenders who were less likely to re-offend, and addressed the nation’s jail overcrowding epidemic. 

The memo also signals a change in the thinking of perhaps the most influential player in the federal criminal justice system: the federal prosecutor. Given that nearly all federal drug crime cases are resolved through plea deals, prosecutorial discretion can greatly influence the lives of criminal defendants. After all, prosecutors have a wide variety of tools at their disposal to increase (or decrease) a defendant’s potential punishment depending on the charges filed and sentencing enhancements sought.

With that, the experience of a seasoned criminal defense attorney can be invaluable. While prosecutors may consider charges based on initially presented facts, they ultimately will construct plea deals based on additional arguments and evidence presented by a defense attorney. A plea deal is based on mutually agreed upon facts that are presented to the court, by which the court must approve.

As such, having an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical in not only maintaining one’s innocence, but also for ensuring a productive post-conviction life.

The preceding is not legal advice. 

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