criminal justice reforms

Attorney General Seeks Stricter Sentences in Criminal Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 31, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has published a new directive calling for stricter sentences in criminal cases across the country.

The directive was sent to federal prosecutors. In a clear departure from the criminal justice policies of the Obama administration, it urged a ‘get tough’ approach to sentencing.

Sessions stressed charging and sentencing recommendations are “bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor.”

He said prosecutors should not be micromanaged from Washington D.C.

Sessions supports stricter sentences in criminal cases

Sessions backs stricter sentences in criminal cases

Sessions outlined his new instructions for charging decisions in federal cases. He said his first principle is that prosecutors “should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

He defined these offenses as those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.

The federal sentencing guidelines are advisory. They take into account a range of factors including a defendant’s criminal history to his or her cooperation with authorities. A report on CNN stated some judges have felt handcuffed by mandatory minimums which provide statutory sentencing minimums of months which a judge cannot depart from.

The call for stricter sentences in criminal cases was criticized by Eric Holder, a longtime attorney general in the Obama administration. He said Sessions’ directive was ill-informed, unwise and backward-looking.

Sessions withdrew a key part of Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which targeted the most serious crimes but aimed to reduce the number of defendants charged with non-violent drug offenses that would otherwise trigger the mandatory minimum sentences.

Holder said in 2013 the minimum sentences led to unduly harsh sentences in some cases.

During the Obama administration, federal prosecutors were instructed not to charge someone with a drug crime that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence when some factors were met, namely:

  • The relevant conduct did not involve violence, death, the threat of violence or weapon possession.
  • The defendant did not lead, manage or organize a criminal organization.
  • There were no ties to major drug trafficking operations.
  • The defendant lacked a “significant” criminal history, on other words previous convictions.

Sessions’ new guidelines are likely to be felt the most by drug offenders, with even first time offenders facing a long time behind bars.

Even drug possession can be charged in the federal courts and carries a stiff sentence. Read more about this offense on our website.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, it’s vital to get experienced representation. Please call our experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys at (512) 474-4445.


Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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Stop and Frisk Changes May Figure in Trump Criminal Justice Reforms

By Peek & Toland on March 20, 2017

New president Donald Trump made some tough promises about stop and frisk laws on the campaign trail.

Now conservatives want him to make good his promises, U.S. News reports.

A coalition from the right of the political spectrum is urging Trump and his attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions to make criminal justice reform a top priority during his first 100 days in office.

U.S. Justice Action Network said it shares Trump’s emphasis on public safety. It said dangerous criminals must be jailed and addicts and people with mental illnesses dealt with via “treatment-based” programs.

stop and frisk comes under fire

Opponents of stop and frisk say more people from minorities are stopped

Timothy Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who signed the letter, said his organization wants to advance criminal justice reform under the Trump administration.

Many conservative politicians anticipate action on stop and frisk.

During his campaign, Trump vowed he would be tough on crime, endorsing the use of controversial stop-and-frisk techniques. However, he appeared to qualify his comments, saying he was only referring to Chicago.

Trump paired his enthusiasm for “stop and frisk” with criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement along with a view that crime is out of control in minority areas of the inner cities.

What Is Stop and Frisk?

Policies of “stop and frisk” have been used in New York City for some time. However, black and Hispanic people were proportionally more likely to be stopped in the street than whites.

In 2013, Shira Scheindlin, a U.S. District Court judge in New York, ruled the city’s “stop and frisk” policy was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection because minorities were subjected to stops and searches at a higher rate than whites reported the Washington Post.

Stop and frisk means a police officer can stop a pedestrian if he or she has a “reasonable suspicion” that they committed a crime or is about to commit a felony or a misdemeanor.

The New York the Public Advocate’s office recorded 532,911 stops in 2012, down from 685,724 in 2011. The vast majority of those stops were of black or Hispanic people.

The policy has been challenged by activists. New York Civil Liberties Union stated stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns about racial profiling, privacy rights, and illegal stops and privacy rights. It stated:

“The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.”

As Austin criminal defense and immigration lawyers, we remain concerned about the notion of stop and frisk being extended given the implications of racial profiling and civil liberties.

Read more about our criminal defense practice here or call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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