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Are feds set to ease mandatory drug minimums?

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is announcing today that the

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is announcing today that the U.S. Department of Justice will be unveiling a new "Smart on Crime" policy that will seek to avoid charging low level drug offenders with draconian mandatory minimum offesnses.

Under current federal law many low level offenders facing drug charges are exposed to mandatory minimum sentences of 5 or 10 years. Although Congress has authorized a so-called "Safety Valve" exception to such mandatory minimum sentences, its application is quite narrow and many low-level non-violent offenders are ruled ineligible for its relief.

The new policy appears to be directed at changing the charging decisions of the U.S. Attorney's office in two ways. First by clarifying guidelines in determining whether federal rather than state charges should be brought in the first place. (Federal drug sentencing laws are often more harsh than their state counterparts.) Second, when the decision is made to charge a low level drug offender in federal court, the policy will be directed at charging low level offenders with non-mandatory minimum offenses.

While this executive action directed at constraining and formalizing prosecutorial discretion is a step in the right direction, a more permanent fix must come from Congress itself by actually amending the various mandatory minimum statutes. We wont hold our breath. Regardless, experienced federal criminal defense laywers must pay close attention to this developing news.

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