Lighter Sentences for Federal Drug Crimes?

On August 9th, Attorney General Eric Holder made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the legal community: Under his direction, the United States Department of Justice would be making a major shift in the way that it prosecutes federal drug crimes throughout the nation. In the 1980s, the Federal Government enacted a series of laws that imposed notoriously tough minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, and since that time there has been a fundamental change in the nature of the criminal justice system in the U.S. The prison population in this country has ballooned as a result of the minimum mandatory sentences for federal drug offenses, to the point where the United States now has more people in prison both as an absolute total and as a percentage of population than any nation in the world.

Changes to the Federal Drug Crime Policy

In his August speech, Eric Holder announced that he and his colleagues will no longer be pursuing the minimum mandatory sentence for certain types of drug crimes. It is not a change to the laws pertaining to controlled substance violations, but rather it is a change to the way that the United States Attorneys will be exercising their prosecutorial discretion. As part of the Executive branch of the government, the Department of Justice has some latitude in how it chooses to prioritize the cases it pursues and the penalties it will seek in any given situation. Holder is now directing his subordinates to hold off from seeking the full penalty possible under circumstances including:

  • The alleged drug-related offense was a non-violent crime
  • It is a relatively low-level drug crime such as simple possession as opposed to trafficking
  • The defendant in the case is not accused of being involved in a cartel or drug trafficking organization

Does New York use minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes?

What does this mean for individuals charged with drug crimes in Westchester County? The answer depends on what law enforcement agency is involved in the case. Holder's directive concerning minimum mandatory sentencing applies only to those drug crimes which fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, and does not pertain to the decisions made by state law enforcement agencies. Fortunately, New Yorkers do not have to worry that their state laws will be enforced more strictly than the federal laws. In 2009, the state legislature amended the New York drug laws in the same direction that is currently being followed by the Holder Justice Department, removing the mandatory minimum sentences that were previously imposed by the notoriously draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws which, themselves, helped to pave the way for the federal minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Need a drug crime attorney in Westchester County?

To learn more about the penalties for a state or federal drug offense in Westchester County, contact The Law Offices of Robert Schuster for an initial consultation to discuss your case.