Report: 20 Fed Prosecutors Ignored Smart-on-Crime Initiative

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At least 20 of the country’s 94 federal districts did not follow the Obama Administration’s “Smart on Crime” recommendations to reduce the number of mandatory minimum sentences for individuals convicted of federal drug crimes, according to a Department of Justice report.

The report, by the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General, also noted that “in response to our survey of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, Criminal Chiefs from nine districts responded that their district did not work with law enforcement partners to develop or revise district guidelines and Criminal Chiefs from four districts responded that they were not sure whether this had occurred.”

Overall, the report found that the Smart on Crime initiative had a significant impact in most of the country’s federal districts.  It concluded that the rate  of federal drug offenders sentenced without a mandatory minimum rose from 40 percent in 2012 to 54 percent in 2015, which it said was “consistent with the first two principles of Smart on Crime.”

Then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced the Smart on Crime initiative in August, 2013, laying out five principles for justice system reform that were aimed at encouraging federal prosecutors to focus on the most serious cases. The first principle required prosecutors to develop “district-specific guidelines for determining when federal prosecutions were brought, and the second principle declared that defendants who had committed low-level, non-violence drug offenses (and who had no ties to organized crime) would not be charged with offenses that imposed mandatory-minimum prison sentences.

According to the Inspector General, 74 of the  94 districts had developed or updated their local policies to “reflect the Smart on Crime policy changes regarding mandatory minimum charging decisions.”

But it also identified shortcomings in implementing the initiative that raise questions about the extent to which prosecutors follow federal guidelines.

The report noted that it did not review the shift in policy announced in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that would re-impose across-the-board mandatory minimums for federal drug offenses, effectively reversing many of the key points of the former administration’s justice reform initiatives.

“While most districts updated their prosecution guidelines, it is not clear whether all districts worked in conjunction with their law enforcement partners to develop or update existing district-specific prosecution guidelines for determining when federal prosecutions should have been brought and in what priority areas, consistent with the first principle of Smart on Crime,” the report said.

The report recommended:

  • Changing the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual to “accurately” reflect Department charging policies;
  • Ensuring that all U.S. Attorney’s Offices consult with their law enforcement partners to make sure that their policies are current and consistent with local prosecution priorities;
  • Requiring all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to collect charging data that will enable the Department to determine whether its charging and sentencing policies are being effectively implemented.

A full copy of the report is available here.

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