Many Californians are familiar with the decades-old War on Drugs. The campaign included a push to incarcerate those who committed even minor drug crimes. However, policy has changed over time, and in recent years, the Justice Department sought to reform the way courts sentenced people convicted of drug charges. However, the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, has ordered federal prosecutors to return to the harshest sentencing guidelines of the War on Drugs, including increased use of mandatory minimum sentences.
Policy memos created in 2013 and 2014 told federal prosecutors to impose the strictest charges only on those who commit significant crimes, such as those involving violence or high-level drug trafficking. In the time since these memos were implemented, the number of people charged with drug crimes that were subjected to mandator minimum sentencing went down significantly, resulting in a 14 percent drop of the number of people in prison. However, these memos have now been rescinded by the current Attorney General.
Critics of the new policy maintain that it would have a negative effect on the number of minorities subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing. Moreover, mandatory minimum sentencing leaves judges without much leeway with regards to how a person who committed a drug crime will be penalized. Critics say this leads to unfair penalties, especially for low-level drug offenses.
This new policy may seriously impact how drug offenses are prosecuted in the future. Therefore, moving forward those accused of committing a drug crime in California may want to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney to ensure that their rights are protected.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Sessions restores tough drug war policies that trigger mandatory minimum sentences," Joseph Tanfani and Evan Halper, May 12, 2017