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US DOJ Takes Up Fight Against Mandatory Minimums

Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed a shift in policy at the Department of Justice - U.S. Attorneys would no longer be pursuing drug crimes that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences if:

  • There was no violence in the accused drug offense
  • The drug offense is considered a low-level crime
  • The drug offense didn't involve a cartel, drug ring or other trafficking distribution setup

Currently, mandatory minimum sentencing structure has not changed; U.S. prosecutors are being instructed to pursue lesser federal drug offenses if the above criteria are met. But, there is hope for those currently facing federal drug charges; at least one judge has held off sentencing for a drug offense based on potential legislative change that could mean a substantially lesser sentence for a drug possession offense.

Serious drug offenses, like drug trafficking, will still be pursued by the DOJ and will not be subject to the leniency proposed by the Attorney General. How this position change by federal prosecutors will affect the state prosecution of drug crimes remains to be seen. Many states, including North Carolina, already reserve mandatory minimum sentencing for more serious drug crimes than simple possession.

Although it's yet to progress through Committee, the Justice Safety Valve Act was proposed in the Senate this year to give judges discretion in handing out sentences that are overly punitive for low-level, non-violent offenses. The new legislation would allow deviation from mandatory minimums if the safety of the public as a whole is not jeopardized in the process.

Source: PatrickRobertsLaw.com, "Changes Ahead For Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing"

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