News Release

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Issues Retrograde Charging Policy; Seeks Return to 20th Century's So-Called 'War on Drugs' and the Age of Mass Incarceration

Washington, DC (May 12, 2017) – This morning, the Washington Post made public the May 10, 2017, Sessions Memo regarding Department of Justice charging and sentencing policy issued to more than 5,000 assistant United States attorneys and all assistant attorneys general. The policy represents a dramatic departure from the previous policy, which called for prosecutors in all cases to "individually evaluate the unique facts and circumstances and select charges and seek sentences that are fair and proportional based upon this individualized assessment." 

The new policy declared by Attorney General Sessions recites that "it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" and that "[a]ny inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is rescinded," pointing specifically to Department Policy on Charging Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Recidivist Enhancements in Certain Drug Cases (August 12, 2013), often referred to as "The Holder Memo;" and Guidance Regarding § 851 Enhancements in Plea Negotiations (September 24, 2014). The new policy allows for exceptions only in cases approved by a U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general, or a supervisor designated by the U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general, and the reasons underlying any departure from the policy must be documented in the file. 

"This Attorney General has taken away the discretion of professional prosecutors to determine what sentence serves justice in any given case," said National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Barry J. Pollack. "Instead, prosecutors are now required in every case mindlessly to seek the maximum possible penalty. The new policy resurrects the failed one size fits all approach to criminal justice of prior Administrations. Those policies led to the shameful mass incarceration that made the United States first in the world in putting its citizens in jail. The Attorney General should be applying a fact-based approach to public health matters like drug addiction and abuse. Instead, he has established a policy that will lock up non-violent offenders with little or no criminal history, waste untold millions of dollars, devastate families and whole communities, and yet not make us any safer." 

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Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.