New Holder Memo: Emphasizing “Individualized Assessment” in Federal Criminal Prosecutions

Last month Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors regarding Department of Justice policy on charging and sentencing. This memo supersedes prior memoranda on this subject issued between 2003 and 2005 by former A.G. John Ashcroft and former Deputy A.G. James Comey. The new memo encourages greater fairness in prosecution than Bush-era policies by repeatedly calling for “individualized assessment” of cases in charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing.

The following excerpt provides an overview of the content of the memo:

[E]qual justice depends on individualized justice, and smart law enforcement demands it. Accordingly, decisions regarding charging, plea agreements, and advocacy at sentencing must be made on the merits of each case, taking into account an individualized assessment of the defendant’s conduct and criminal history and the circumstances related to the commission of the offense (including the impact of the crime on victims), the needs of the communities we serve, and federal resources and priorities. Prosecutors must always be mindful of our duty to ensure that these decisions are made without unwarranted consideration of such factors as race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

The entire memo is available here.