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Legislation Pushes Back Against DOJ’s New Prosecuting Guidelines

New legislation introduced in Congress is pushing back against a recently issued directive from the Justice Department to pursue the most serious charges possible against most criminal suspects.

Legislation is being introduced in both the House and the Senate to push back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that he is rolling back prosecuting guidelines that had been put in place under the Obama administration by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Sessions sent a letter to federal prosecutors last week which directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against most criminal suspects.

Some in Congress object to this new direction, however. According to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), “Mandatory minimum sentences disproportionally affect minorities and low-income communities, while doing little to keep us safe and turning mistakes into tragedies.”

Paul is one of several lawmakers introducing the legislation, known as the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 1127). The bill would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums where deemed appropriate.

The bill’s authors say this would restore the proportionality, fairness, and rationality to federal sentencing by allowing federal judges to tailor sentences on a case-by-case basis.

They also claim it will help to reduce correctional spending, which currently accounts for almost a third of the Department of Justice’s annual budget.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Companion legislation is being introduced in the House by Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY).

“Attorney General Sessions’ directive to all federal prosecutors to charge the most serious offenses, including mandatory minimums, ignores the fact that mandatory minimum sentences have been studied extensively and have been found to distort rational sentencing systems, discriminate against minorities, waste money, and often require a judge to impose sentences that violate common sense,” said Rep. Scott. “To add insult to injury, studies have shown that mandatory minimum sentences fail to reduce crime. Our bill will give discretion back to federal judges, so that they can consider all the facts, issues, and circumstances before sentencing.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.