Holder Says Drug-Charge Policy to Apply to Pending Cases
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said a new policy to stop seeking mandatory minimum prison terms for some non-violent drug offenders will apply to cases of people who have been charged though not yet convicted.
Holder ordered Justice Department prosecutors on Aug. 12 to avoid bringing charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences against nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to criminal organizations.
Such sentences “do not serve public safety when they’re applied indiscriminately,” Holder said, according to a text prepared for a speech in Washington today. Instead, he said the U.S. should preserve “the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers or kingpins.”
The Justice Department has been working on a review of the U.S. criminal justice system at Holder’s direction since the start of this year. Lawmakers in Congress have sought to identify ways to reduce a prison population of more than 1.5 million people in 2012 at federal, state and local levels.
In a memo to federal prosecutors released by the Justice Department, Holder said the new policy applies in pending cases of defendants who haven’t pleaded guilty or been convicted. Prosecutors can decide whether to apply the policy to people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty and haven’t been sentenced, the memo said. People who have been sentenced won’t have their convictions changed.
“We must never stop being tough on crime,” Holder said in remarks prepared for a forum today sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. Still, he said the new approach “is both smarter and more efficient.”
Some lawmakers of both political parties have supported the new policy. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul in August called Holder’s announcement “a welcome development.” Paul and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, have proposed giving federal judges more sentencing flexibility.
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