It's always hard to say just how much a new federal official in a high-level office will change how things work on the ground. In reality, the typical answer is “not much”; the people who sit at the top of the government in Washington, D.C. tend not to influence much of what goes on in Maine's criminal justice system.
However, when the president-elect made such a point about heavy prosecution and returning to the days of “law and order,” and then appoints someone like Jeff Sessions to run the Department of Justice, it's important to try predicting what will likely happen.
Recent Department of Justice Policies
The Department of Justice is basically the prosecutor's office of the federal government. Just like Maine's prosecutors, though, the Department of Justice has a lot of ground to cover and a limited amount of time and resources. Therefore, the person who runs the show – the United States Attorney General – has a lot of say in what gets done and what gets overlooked.
The two attorney generals under President Obama – Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch – had focused on violations of civil rights by states. Notably, the Department of Justice under Obama had challenged Arizona's controversial immigration law, and had refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, which had outlawed gay marriage.
The Department of Justice Under Jeff Sessions
With role of United States Attorney General transitioning to someone new, it's important to see what the incoming attorney general thinks is important. As a criminal defense attorney, it does not look good for your rights.
Sessions has long been one of the most outspoken opponents against marijuana. He once joked that the KKK was “okay until I found out they smoked pot.” Currently, the federal prosecutors at the Department of Justice have made an effort to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders. Sessions has said that effort would be thrown out the window when he gets the attorney general position. Additionally, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. It's unclear how Sessions will handle the fact that numerous states have legalized pot. Mainers who make use of our medicinal marijuana program might find their rights under attack.
Additionally, Sessions' “tough on crime” stance has led to him opposing any changes to lengthy prison sentences, blocking reform bills that would've reduced the mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent offenders. Sessions “law and order” mentality is also likely to show itself by not prosecuting police departments for Fourth Amendment violations and the excessive use of force.
William T. Bly, Maine Criminal Defense Attorney
The appointment of someone like Jeff Sessions to the office of United States Attorney General is a worrying one for any criminal defense attorney. The appointment means that we will likely see a shift away from civil rights concerns and towards an attitude that only cares that laws are enforced. This attitude can be disastrous for your rights as a U.S. citizen.
If you have been charged with a crime in the state of Maine, contact William T. Bly, a criminal defense attorney based in Biddeford, Maine, online or at (207) 571-8146.