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The Federal Docket

Federal Judge Declares Mistrial in Trial Against Backpage Founders

A federal judge in Arizona recently declared a mistrial in the jury trial of Backpage founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, who were charged with prostitution and money laundering. While the judge had initially ruled that prosecutors and witnesses could mention that the site was used for sex trafficking, they were prohibited from sharing specific details of that abuse. The judge declared a mistrial after the prosecution and witnesses repeatedly mentioned that the site was used for child sex trafficking.

Feds Target Those Making Threats Against Election Officials

The Federal Government is reportedly “ramping up” its investigation into individuals who are making threats against election officials. The FBI and the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section are reaching out to officials who have been receiving credible violent threats from individuals regarding the 2020 election.

DOJ Announces Investigation Into Conditions of Georgia State Prisons

The Department of Justice has announced a civil rights investigation into the conditions facing inmates in Georgia’s prison system. Each of the three U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Georgia, for the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts, are involved in the statewide investigation along with the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. They will also be working with the State of Georgia and its Department of Corrections to determine whether inmates’ rights have been violated due to the conditions of their confinement.

DOJ Announces New Policy on Chokeholds and No-Knock Entries

The Department of Justice has announced a new written policy prohibiting the use of “chokeholds” and “carotid restraints,” a method of knocking out a detainee by restricting blood flow to their brain, unless an officer is authorized to use deadly force. The DOJ also announced a new policy limiting the use of “no-knock” warrants and entries. The policies will be applied across the entire Department of Justice and its sub-agencies.

Report on the “S” Visa Program Reveals Flawed System

A study recently released by NACDL has revealed the government’s failure to effectively administer the “S Visa” program, which gives non-citizens legal status in exchange for their cooperation in criminal or terrorism-related cases. While 200 criminal informants can be granted an S visa each year, for example, only 16 were granted an S visa in 2018. The report details the bureaucratic obstacles facing S visa applicants and other aspects of the S visa program that make it inaccessible.

DOJ: 4,000+ Inmates on Home Confinement Must Return to Prison After the COVID-19 Pandemic Ends

As reported by the New York Times, the Department of Justice recently determined that federal inmates on home confinement pursuant to the CARES Act must return to prison when the pandemic is over. Unless the DOJ changes its position, Congress will have to pass a law or the Biden administration will have to issue mass sentence commutations to avoid sending thousands of people back to prison after spendings months back in their communities.

US Attorney’s Office in Atlanta Issues Update on PPP Loan Fraud Cases

The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has issued a press release regarding the latest developments in some of its fraud cases involving COVID-19 relief funds. Our firm has also compiled a list of COVID-19 relief fraud cases from across the country with the kinds of charges and sentences in each case (link in the post).

Sentencing Commission Stats Show Steady Drop in Federal Prosecutions for Marijuana Trafficking

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently released statistics reflecting trends in federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking. The stats reflect that, since 2016, the number of federal marijuana trafficking cases has significantly and consistently decreased. The stats also broke down the number of offenders in BOP custody for marijuana, how many received downward variances, and other trends.

DOJ Announces Support for Scaling Back Crack-Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

Late last month, the Department of Justice submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate “urging Congress to pass legislation to permanently end the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The DOJ stated that the sentencing disparity, established in the 1980s, was based on “misguided policy” and “misinformation.” The DOJ further noted that 87.5% of people in federal prison serving time for crack offenses were black. Senator Grassley issued a written statement in support of reforming federal drug laws but criticized the DOJ for not providing a live witness.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases “Compassionate Release Data Report”

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released data reflecting the number of “compassionate release” motions that have been granted during the COVID-19 pandemic (21%). The report breaks down the data by showing how many were granted and denied by district and by the year when the inmate’s original sentence was imposed, as well as other information.

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