The Sessions Memo: A Significant Reversal of Policy?

Nicholas C. Harbist and Melissa Fundora Murphy

In May 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to U.S. attorneys, ordering all federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” as a “core principle” of charging and sentencing policy. The memorandum defines the most serious offenses as “those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

This policy represents a significant reversal of the comparatively lenient stance established by Eric Holder, one of Sessions’ predecessors under President Barack Obama, who had ordered federal prosecutors in 2013 to refrain from charging defendants with certain offenses that could see long mandatory minimum sentences.

Prosecutors will now be expected to recommend a sentence within federal guidelines when before a federal judge, and must disclose to the sentencing court all of the facts that impact the sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimum sentences. Recommendations outside of the guidelines will require a documented explanation, as well as approval from a U.S. attorney, assistant attorney general, or a designated supervisor. Deviations from the “core principle” of pursing the most serious offenses will only be granted if “justified by unusual facts.”

Attorney General Sessions made it clear that he wants this shift in policy to be immediate, noting that “[a]ny inconsistent previous policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters is rescinded, effective today.”

This article was originally published in the July 2017 edition of White Collar Watch. Click here to read the article online.