Several sources said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to reverse a number of President Obama's administration's more lenient drug laws by cracking down on the prosecution and sentencing policies for those accused of committing such crimes.
According to someone familiar with the situation, Sessions is examining two memos written by Obama's Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., reports The New York Times. Those memos instructed federal prosecutors that in light of mandatory minimum sentencing, they did not need to file all eligible criminal charges if they felt they were excessive considering the individual circumstances of the case.
Sessions is expected to implement a different policy. It may be the same as the 2003 memo issued by George W. Bush's Attorney General John Ashcroft, which instructed prosecutors to file the most serious charges for most cases, or Sessions may create a completely new directive with guidance that falls somewhere between the two.
"As the attorney general has consistently said, we are reviewing all Department of Justice policies to focus on keeping Americans safe and will be issuing further guidance and support to our prosecutors executing this priority -- including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases," Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said on May 9, according to The Times.
Sessions said earlier in 2017 that he intends to rework drug prosecution policies and that he favors leveling tougher charges against the accused.
"My vision of a smart way to do this is, let's take that arrest, let's hammer that criminal who's distributing drugs that have been imported in our country," Sessions said in a March speech to law enforcement officials, according to ABC News.
Throughout his career, the Alabama Republican and former senator has advocated being tough on crime, and he has criticized the Obama administration, which saw a decrease in the prison population, for giving people the opportunities to commit multiple crimes, notes The Times.
"Many violent crimes are driven by drug trafficking and drug trafficking organizations," Sessions wrote in a March 8 memo, adding that his department had "strong evidence that aggressive prosecutions of federal laws can be effective in combating crime. Our department’s experience over decades shows these prosecutions can help save lives."
In 2013, Holder called for "individualized justice" upon reversing the 2003 memo instructing prosecutors to charge defendants with "the most serious, readily provable offense in all federal prosecutions" and instead called to save "our most severe mandatory minimum penalties" for "serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers."
"Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for truly no good law enforcement reason," Holder said at the time.