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Holder Proposes Changes in Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Certain Drug Offenses

Attorney General Eric Holder approved major changes in the manner in which Assistant United States Attorneys decide to prosecute Defendants charged with certain drug offenses carrying minimum/mandatory punishments.

In a memorandum sent on August 12 to all United States Attorney Offices, Holder said he is mandating a change to Justice Department policy so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won't be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

With these proposed reforms, Holder said defendants will instead be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences "are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins."

Holder says changes must now be made at the federal level "to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate — not merely to convict, warehouse and forget." Enforcement of federal criminal laws is necessary, but "we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation," Holder said.

The attorney general also said some issues are best handled at the state or local level and said he has directed federal prosecutors across the country to develop locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not.

"By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime 'hot spots,' and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness — we can become both smarter and tougher on crime," Holder said.

I relied on this memorandum in a sentencing hearing that I had yesterday in Federal court in Miami on an identity theft, tax fraud, and wire fraud case. Even though the Holder memorandum doesn't specifically address these types of offenses, I argued that it showed a shift in policy within the Department of Justice toward acknowledging a fair rigid system of sentencing that takes into account more than just the strict application of sentencing guidelines. While the sentencing guidelines directed that my client receive a sentence of 63-78 months as a result of his guilty plea, the judge agreed with me and imposed a sentence of 36 months instead.

See the memorandum here.

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