WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new memo for federal prosecutors to pursue harsher mandatory minimum sentences drew a quick rebuke from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who accused the administration of underscoring “injustice” against minority communities.
“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences,” states the memo in part.
“There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted. In that case, prosecutors should carefully consider whether an exception may be justified. Consistent with longstanding 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.”
In a morning press conference, Sessions said prosecutors “deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington — rather, they must be permitted to apply the law to the facts of each investigation.”
“Going forward, I have empowered our prosecutors to charge and pursue the most serious offense, as I believe the law requires — most serious readily provable offense. It means that we’re going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It is simply the right and moral thing to do,” he said.
“But it is important to note that unlike previous charging memoranda, I have given our prosecutors discretion to avoid sentences that would result in an injustice.”
The attorney general added that “we know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do. The facts prove that so.”
“We’re returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress. Plain and simple, if you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way. We will not be willfully blind to your misconduct,” he said. “We are talking about, for example, a kilogram of heroin — that’s 10,000 doses of heroin on the streets. Five kilograms of cocaine, 10,000 kilograms of marijuana. These are not low-level drug offenders we in the federal courts are focusing on. These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison.”
Sessions did not take any questions from the media.
Paul, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform in Congress, released a statement noting that mandatory minimum sentences “have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long.”
“Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice,” the senator said. “Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ problem.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement slamming Sessions’ announcement: “The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime.”
“It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety,” Holder added.