On May 10, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions changed the policy of the United States Attorney’s Office regarding charging federal offenses and the position Assistant United States Attorney must take going forward relative to sentencing. The rules have changed for the worst in the United States District Court in Michigan and throughout the United States.
Why have the rules changed for the worst?
Any time discretion is removed and replaced with policy, dissimilar cases and dissimilar defendants all start being treated the same. This is seriously bad policy on a federal level relative to criminal prosecutions because all defendants are not alike and every case is unique. The attorneys who charge federal offenses are not simpletons, they are intelligent, aggressive prosecutors and they have the ability to competently exercise discretion so that the charges and plea negotiations are done fairly. Having a policy that basically forces prosecutors to charge the most sever charge possible and seek mandatory minimum sentences strips the discretion from US Attorneys to modify charges and plea bargains when appropriate. The memorandum purports to give discretion but only if approved by a supervisor and only in extraordinary cases. This exception is toothless and will rarely, if ever, be used.
Practical and Tragic Example of a Mandatory Minimum Sentence
In a case recently published on CNN Politics, a federal judge was very upset that he had no alternative but to send a grandmother who was a drug addict to prison for 5 years over an amount of drugs equal in size to a packet of sugar. United States District Judge Mark Bennett made is crystal clear that he thought the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence for an elderly defendant, Susan Rice, who got caught up in a drug conspiracy in Sioux City, Iowa. The judge made it clear that his opinion of Ms. Rice was that she was a “low-level addict”. According to the article, “It is not the first time he has felt this way. Bennett says 80% of the mandatory sentences he hands down are unjust — but that he is handcuffed by the law, which leaves no room for judicial discretion to consider a sentence based on individual circumstances of the defendant.”
The judge made his feelings clear when he stated from the bench, “too often, low-level nonviolent drug addicts dealing to feed their habit end up being sentenced like drug kingpins.” In the end, his feeling is that the mandatory minimum in some cases results in a “miscarriage of justice.”
What can be done about mandatory minimum sentences in the United States District Court in Michigan?
The United States Attorney’s Office in Detroit is widely known to be aggressive and zealous in the prosecution of those charged with federal, criminal offenses within the jurisdiction of that office. Given the new position of the Attorney General on charging and sentencing, the stakes are higher than ever when there is an ongoing federal investigation. An aggressive, proactive and effective criminal defense lawyer gives a person under investigation or charge their best possible chance of facing the lowest reasonable charge and avoiding a mandatory minimum when possible.
If you are under investigation by law enforcement or charged with a federal crime in the United States District Court in Michigan, call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and an highly experienced lawyer will promptly contact you.