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Top Federal prosecutor comments on “broken,” “unjust,” and “unsustainable” criminal justice system, proposes reforms

The tides appear to be turning in Washington on the “War on Drugs.”  On August 12, 2013, United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, discussed the “broken” criminal justice system in America, commenting:

“Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.  And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems. . . .   It’s clear . . . that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good . . . reason.”  (8/12/13, Eric Holder Speech).

He continued:

“[W]idespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable.  It imposes a significant economic burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone – and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

He also recognized the significant racial disparities in the American criminal justice system, saying, “We also must confront the rality that . . . people of color often face harsher punishments than their peers[, which is] unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition.”

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In response to these problems, the Attorney General noted three specific changes of policy within the United States Attorneys Office:

1. “[R]ethinking the notion of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes”;

2. “updat[ing] [the] frameword for considering compassionate release for inmates”; and

3. “ensur[ing] that every case [] br[ought] serves a substantial federal interest[.]”

* * *

It remains to be seen whether these policy changes will have a significant real-world impact.  However, it is clear that the boss of all federal prosecutors believes the current system is “unjust and unsustainable” and needs to be significantly reworked, and it is likely that skilled federal criminal defense lawyers will be able to utilize these policy changes to obtain more appropriate and just outcomes for individuals facing federal criminal charges or under federal indictment.

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