Merrick Garland’s Memorandum on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

May 13, 2023

On January 20, 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum to all United States Attorneys, outlining new policies regarding the use of mandatory minimum sentences in federal criminal cases. The memorandum directs prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in charging decisions and to avoid charging mandatory minimum offenses absent aggravating factors.

The memorandum is a significant departure from the policies of the previous administration, which had embraced mandatory minimum sentences as a key tool in the war on drugs. The Trump administration had expanded the use of mandatory minimum sentences and had made it more difficult for judges to depart from them.

The Garland memorandum reflects a growing consensus that mandatory minimum sentences are counterproductive. They have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on minority communities, and they have contributed to mass incarceration. The memorandum also recognizes that mandatory minimum sentences can lead to unjust results, such as the imprisonment of people who are not a danger to the community.

The memorandum is a welcome step toward reform. It will give prosecutors more flexibility in charging decisions, and it will allow judges to impose sentences that are more appropriate for the individual case. The memorandum is a sign that the Biden administration is committed to reducing mass incarceration and ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair and just.

Background on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Mandatory minimum sentences are statutory provisions that require a judge to impose a certain sentence for a particular crime. The sentence is set by statute, and the judge has no discretion to depart from it. Mandatory minimum sentences were first enacted in the United States in the 1970s, in response to concerns about rising crime rates.

Mandatory minimum sentences have been used to great effect in the war on drugs. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The act was particularly harsh on crack cocaine offenses, which were disproportionately committed by African Americans.

The use of mandatory minimum sentences has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people incarcerated in the United States. In 1970, there were approximately 200,000 people in federal and state prisons. By 2020, that number had increased to over 2.2 million. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Criticisms of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Mandatory minimum sentences have been criticized for a number of reasons. First, they have been shown to have a disproportionate impact on minority communities. African Americans are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white Americans, and they are more likely to be sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences.

Second, mandatory minimum sentences have contributed to mass incarceration. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a significant portion of those incarcerated are serving mandatory minimum sentences.

Third, mandatory minimum sentences can lead to unjust results. For example, a person who is not a danger to the community may be imprisoned for a long period of time simply because they violated a mandatory minimum sentence.

The Garland Memorandum

The Garland memorandum is a significant departure from the policies of the previous administration. The memorandum directs prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in charging decisions and to avoid charging mandatory minimum offenses absent aggravating factors.

The memorandum is a welcome step toward reform. It will give prosecutors more flexibility in charging decisions, and it will allow judges to impose sentences that are more appropriate for the individual case. The memorandum is a sign that the Biden administration is committed to reducing mass incarceration and ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair and just.

Conclusion

The Garland memorandum is a significant step forward in the fight to reform the criminal justice system. It will give prosecutors more flexibility in charging decisions, and it will allow judges to impose sentences that are more appropriate for the individual case. The memorandum is a sign that the Biden administration is committed to reducing mass incarceration and ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair and just.

Contact an Experienced Orange County Federal Crimes Attorney

If you’ve been accused of a federal crime, then contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Orange County federal crimes attorney.

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