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June 15, 2010

Effective commentary on DOJ's new charging and sentencing policy

Now available free on-line is this effective commentary by Alan Vinegrad in the New York Law Journal from last week headlined "Justice Department's New Charging, Plea Bargaining and Sentencing Policy."  Here is how the piece begins:

On May 19, 2010, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the Justice Department's new policy on charging, plea bargaining and sentencing. "New" is a bit of an overstatement, as Mr. Holder's memo notes that its purpose is to "reaffirm the guidance" provided by the principles of federal prosecution that were first memorialized 30 years ago.  That said, the new policy does reflect a number of subtle, and substantive, changes in text and tone from the policies of Mr. Holder's recent predecessors.  This article will summarize notable changes in charging, plea bargaining and sentencing policy — with an emphasis (consistent with the nature of this column) on the last.

Thirty years ago, Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti published the Justice Department's "Principles of Federal Prosecution" — containing specific guidance on how federal prosecutors should decide what charges to bring, what plea bargains to strike, and what sentences to seek.  Many of his successor Attorneys General followed suit, with Richard Thornburgh, Janet Reno and John Ashcroft each issuing his or her own iteration of these policies.

Even Deputy Attorney General James Comey got into the act, issuing two memos on sentencing policy just before and after the Sentencing Guidelines were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Booker.  Mr. Holder's recent memo continues this laudable trend of setting forth, in writing with full transparency, the general principles by which the most critical decisions in the federal criminal justice system are made.

June 15, 2010 at 09:29 PM | Permalink


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"...if (1) the prosecutor determined that ... the indictment "exaggerates the seriousness of an offense or offenses"..."

Has there ever been an indictment that didn't exaggerate the seriousness of the charges and, if so, has there ever been a prosecutor willing to concede the point?

Posted by: John K | Jun 16, 2010 9:53:17 AM

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