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More serious penalties for federal charges may be ahead

California residents who are facing various types of federal criminal charges may also face longer sentences than they would have during the Obama administration. In 2013, Eric Holder, who was the attorney general at the time, issued a memo directing federal judges to limit mandatory minimum sentencing. The issue was that nonviolent offenders were facing long prison sentences, and that was costly for taxpayers.

In a two-page memo issued on May 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed prosecutors to seek the most serious possible charges. This is expected to lead to a growth in the prison population, which had been going down. However, officials said that unless low-level drug offenders were also involved in gangs or had firearms, or unless there were other aggravating circumstances, they would not face these types of severe charges. An example of a case that would lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years is one in which a person allegedly had 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, 1 kilogram of heroin or 5 kilograms of cocaine.

The plan was criticized by both Holder and the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. From 2009 to 2015, there was a drop of 5 percent in the number of people who were sentenced and in federal custody, but prisons have been notified to expect rising numbers.

Even for relatively minor drug-related charges, people might face severe penalties, and if more serious federal crimes are involved, such as kidnapping, people might face a lengthier sentence than they would have in the past few years. One potential strategy for reducing the length and severity of a sentence is a plea bargain.

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