Harsher criminal penalties are about to be reality under the new administration, as a memorandum to U.S. attorney staffers from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently revealed. This is going to mean having a skilled criminal defense lawyer will be more important now than ever.
The comparatively lenient Obama-era enforcement of low-level drug crimes will be rolled back, the Sessions memo indicates. Previous Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed prosecutors when possible to avoid charging low-level drug offenders with crimes that inevitably carried mandatory minimum sentences. These mandatory terms give both judges and prosecutors little discretion over the length of the sentence if the defendant is convicted. Despite the rigidity of these guidelines, the Sessions memo indicates the purpose is to "unhandcuff" federal prosecutors, freeing them from "micromanagement" in Washington.
Under Sessions' watch, federal prosecutors who want to file lesser charges for low-level crimes will need to have it approved for exception by a U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general or other supervisor.
Minimum Mandatory Sentencing Burdens Prisons
Although Sessions insisted in a speech that the new policy is intended to target drug traffickers, as opposed to low-level offenders, the reality is all will be affected. In addition to the numerous injustices that these hard-line minimum mandatory sentencing schemes carry, they are also known to be extremely taxing on our already-overburdened prison systems.
Just last year, a bipartisan federal task force recommended a reduction of federal prison inmates by 60,000 over the course of 10 years. The task force called the need "urgent," noting that 80 percent of those locked up were convicted of drug crimes - and had no prior criminal history.
Holder called this practice "draconian" and said his policy was an opportunity - and an obligation - to bring the nation's laws more in line with our value as a just society.
What's more, there has been ample research to show that these approaches are ineffective. Holder mentioned that when minimum mandatory sentences are applied indiscriminately, they fail to improve public safety, and are ultimately counterproductive, harming entire communities - particularly those in poorer, minority neighborhoods.
Alabama Minimum Mandatory Sentences
The directive from sessions isn't going to directly affect those facing state-level prosecution in Alabama. That's because the U.S. attorneys Sessions oversees prosecute federal-level crimes, while state-level crimes are handled by state prosecutors overseen by the state's attorney general. Nonetheless, Alabama has historically taken a more conservative stance on the issue of minimum mandatory sentences when it comes to drug crimes.
As explained by our Birmingham defense attorneys, if you are convicted of distribution or sale of illegal drugs, you will face a minimum mandatory of between 2 and 10 years in prison - with the possibility of up to 99 years, depending on the type of drug and how much you had. There is no misdemeanor option for drug trafficking in Alabama, which is considered a Class A felony drug offense.
For example, Code of Alabama 13A-12-231 holds that if you are convicted of trafficking between 2.2 and 100 pounds of marijuana, you will face a minimum mandatory prison term of three years. Similar sentencing guidelines exist for trafficking in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
These are serious offenses, and our criminal defense lawyers are committed to ensuring your rights and best interests are protected through every step of the way.