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Attorney General advocates for reduced drug sentences

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to testify before the U.S. Sentencing Commission that the federal mandatory minimum prison sentence for certain drug-related offenses should be reduced. In particular, he is endorsing a move to reduce the sentence for federally convicted drug dealers in New York and nationwide by one year, from 62 months to 51 months. His prepared remarks, which were released to the press ahead of his scheduled appearance before the commission, argue that the justice system's overreliance on incarceration for drug offenses is unsustainable and should be curtailed. His statement also argues that the high rates of incarceration have high moral costs that cannot be calculated.

The Attorney General has instructed federal prosecutors not to object to certain requests for sentence reductions in drug cases where the new proposed guidelines would apply. The Attorney General's remarks follow President Obama's recent statements that marijuana use is no more of a danger than alcohol. The remarks also added him to the list of politicians who have come out in favor of curbing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

The Justice Department has also made motions toward reducing sentences for certain drug offenses. The Department recently requested that those who have been convicted of nonviolent crack cocaine-related offenses to apply for clemency. This could result in a reduction of the federal prison population by more than 6,500 inmates in the next five years.

The current system of laws and harsh sentences for drug offenses makes things difficult for those charged with drug-related crimes. However, the political climate may be shifting away from such a hardline stance. An attorney may be able to help an accused person challenge the merits of the prosecution's evidence or negotiate a plea bargain that results in a lesser sentence.

Source: The Huffington Post, "New Justice Department Policy Will Cut Federal Drug Sentences," Ryan J. Reilly, March 13, 2014

Source: Washington Times, "Eric Holder to give thumbs-up to drop jail time for drug offenders", Cheryl Chumley , March 13, 2014

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