Attorney General Eric Holder recently issued a Memorandum on Department Policy on Charging and Sentencing that marks a welcome change in the Department of Justice’s charging and sentencing policy. Emphasizing that “reasoned exercise of prosecutorial discretion is essential to the fair, effective, even-handed administration of the federal criminal laws,” Holder’s new guidance for federal prosecutors signals a shift away from one-size-fits-all uniformity in sentencing to a more individualized assessment of defendants. Because unwarranted sentencing disparities can result from a failure by prosecutors to carefully advocate for an appropriate sentence, the Holder memo urges prosecutors to seek sentences based on “an individualized assessment of the facts and circumstances of each particular case.” The Holder memo also requires all charging decisions to be approved by a supervising attorney and, in all but the most routine indictments, accompanied by an explanation of the charging decision in light of all available charging options. Finally, the Holder memo establishes that “[c]harges should not be filed simply to exert leverage to induce a plea.” The May 19 memo replaces earlier memos from former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James Coney. While implementation by the individual U.S. Attorney’s offices will be a key factor in assessing the Holder memo’s overall effectiveness, the repeated emphasis on greater flexibility in criminal charging and sentencing should be commended.
Holder Memo Emphasizes Flexibility in Charging and Sentencing
WLF Legal Pulse
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