New federal policy seeks to lower penalties for some drug offenders

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new policy that may affect the sentences imposed on people charged with certain drug crimes in the United States.

Holder indicated that individuals who are non-violent and are charged with certain minor drug crimes should no longer face long mandatory minimum sentences. Instead, he reported that federal prosecutors will now be instructed to charge such individuals with crimes that will not make them subject to mandatory minimum sentences. In other words, prosecutors will likely leave out the quantity of drugs found on the individual when filing criminal charges. This policy, dubbed the " Smart on Crime" program, replaces the focus of previous administrations on the so-called War on Drugs.

These changes are an important step in reforming the criminal justice system in the U.S., which currently incarcerates a larger percentage of the population than any other country, based on data from the International Centre for Prison Studies. Inmates in the United States account for one-quarter of the world's prisoners, while the population of the U.S. only accounts for five percent of the population worldwide.

In addition to the announced policy changes, Holder has also indicated that he would like to see legislation passed allowing federal judges some discretion in determining when to abandon mandatory minimums for drug crimes.

Reducing the number of individuals incarcerated in the United States will help resolve the current overcrowding problem and ultimately reduce costs as well. Currently, Holder reported that prisons in the United States have 40 percent more inmates than they are equipped to handle. In addition, the incarceration of people in the U.S. costs approximately $80 billion annually.

Texas has already taken steps to reduce its prison population by focusing on non-violent drug offenders. Those convicted of such offenses may be required to attend drug rehabilitation programs rather than facing lengthy prison sentences.

New policies will affect enforcement of marijuana laws

Shortly after the announcement of the change in policy for drug crimes generally, Holder also reported a shift in policy with regard to marijuana laws across the country.

Currently, two states have legalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana. Holder announced that the federal government will not challenge those laws, and instead will focus its efforts on enforcing marijuana laws in eight main areas. Among the areas federal officials will now focus include trafficking across state lines and distributing marijuana to minors.

If you have been charged with a drug crime, seeking the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will ensure a strong defense is established on your behalf.