DOJ Ends Trump Administration’s Policy of Seeking the Harshest Charges, Sentences

The Federal Docket

February 1, 2021

The Acting Attorney General at the Department of Justice, now under President Biden’s administration, has issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors announcing that the DOJ is reversing a Trump-era policy which required prosecutors to see the harshest possible charges and sentences in criminal prosecutions.

In May 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had instructed all prosecutors to pursue the harshest charges and sentences unless they received permission from supervisors. In sentencing hearings, for example, prosecutors generally had to inform courts if there were any facts that could have triggered a mandatory minimum, regardless of what the defendant was convicted of, and prosecutors had to obtain supervisors’ approval if they wished to recommend a departure or variance for a particular defendant.

The recent memorandum is aimed at expanding “prosecutorial discretion.” Until a long-term policy is implemented by the next Attorney General, the DOJ is reverting to 2010 policy advising that charging decisions, plea agreements, and sentencing positions should “reflect an individualized assessment of the relevant facts” in each case. In theory, prosecutors should now have more flexibility in negotiating plea agreements or decision-making regarding charges and penalties.

View the memorandum at Huffington Post by clicking here.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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