Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a reputation for singling out drug cases for harsh prosecution. Now, he has directed federal prosecutors to carry out this policy and seek harsh penalties in drug cases across the country. This move can have detrimental consequences for defendants who are charged with drug-related crimes.
Now, more than ever, it is important that defendants have sound legal advice in order to mitigate the criminal and civil consequences of a drug conviction. A Scranton criminal defense attorney can help protect defendants’ constitutional rights - even as harsh changes in federal law enforcement policy put these rights in jeopardy.
What is Attorney General Sessions Changing?
Under the authority of then-President Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder enacted a policy of not charging certain defendants with offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. This supported a broader policy of the Obama Administration, namely that minor drug offenses should not draw law enforcement efforts from more serious offenses of all types.
In May 2017, the Washington Post reported that Sessions had issued a memo that directed federal prosecutors in the Justice Department to pursue the most severe charges and penalties possible in drug cases. The memo effectively overturned eight years of Obama-era law enforcement policy.
How Can This Harm Defendants Charged With Drug Offenses?
The harsh new federal policies have the potential to violate a defendant’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. While the case law in this area has not yet developed a clear opinion regarding what types of drug sentences might be considered such a violation, it is not hard to imagine that federal drug policies even harsher than the current ones could soon lead to a constitutional challenge.
Because the charges and sentencing for drug offenses are likely to become much harsher in the coming months and years, it is more important than ever for defendants charged with a drug offense to have the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can identify all possible procedural, substantive, and constitutional challenges to the prosecutor’s case.
The harsh new policies of Attorney General Sessions are not the only changes occurring in state and federal drug laws. According to Rewire, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering a case which could result in prenatal drug use being classified as child abuse. The outcome of the case would directly affect child custody law in Pennsylvania. While the statute at issue does not provide for criminal penalties, the prosecution of criminal cases would likely be affected by the child custody consequences and changes.
Drug offenses carry a wide array of consequences. In addition to jail time, court costs, and other criminal penalties, defendants face civil consequences as well. These can include forfeiture of seized property, loss of child custody rights and other issues related to a criminal drug case.
With the advice of a Scranton criminal defense attorney, defendants charged with drug offenses will be better able to protect their constitutional rights and promote fairness in the criminal justice system throughout their case.