Justice Department calls for tough drug crime sentencing

The new attorney general calls for a return to the use of mandatory minimum sentencing.

Drug crimes are an issue in the United States. The right way to handle this issue is a contentious topic. Some argue that anyone who is found to possess, distribute or make these illegal substances should go to jail for as long as possible while others push for treatment to address the addiction fueling the drug problem.

This debate was recently revisited with the election of President Donald Trump. President Trump nominated Jeff Sessions as the new attorney general. Once approved, the new attorney general began to push for the Justice Department to return to a more strict approach on sentencing for drug crimes, particularly focusing on imposing mandatory minimum sentencing when applicable.

What is the mandatory minimum sentencing structure?

Mandatory minimum sentencing is the use of prison terms that are set for a particular crime. This can include certain drug, gun and immigration crimes. These sentences are generally inflexible.

Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. pushed for a move away from mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug crimes during his tenure with the Obama Administration. He was not alone in his push to move away from this sentencing structure. Critics of the mandatory minimum sentencing structure abound, including Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who recently stated that such guidelines "have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long."

The most recent movement away from this sentencing structure was challenged by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

How is the shift away from mandatory minimum drug crime sentencing challenged by the new attorney general?

Attorney General Sessions released an official statement to all federal prosecutors on May 10, 2017. This statement called for all "prosecutors [to] charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense." The statement continues with a note that these efforts should include pursuing mandatory minimum sentencing when available.

His intentions are made clear at the end of the release, where he states that any "inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is rescinded, effective today."

Critics of the change note that a one size fits all approach to drug crime sentencing does not address the drug problem in the country. Locking up those fighting addiction, it is argued, does not fix the problem. Critics further contend that the shift treats drug offenders differently. Those who are found with opiates are more likely to get treatment options, while those who are struggling with a crack addiction will get jail time with mandatory minimums and enhanced sentences.

What does this mean for those who are charged with a crime?

Those who are attempting to navigate criminal charges should take note of this shift. The chances of facing a mandatory minimum sentence are greater than they once were. As such, it is extremely important to craft a defense to meet your specific charges, better ensuring your rights are protected.