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What to Expect in Criminal Justice Priorities under Attorney General Sessions

By Paul V. Kelly
  • January 30, 2017

Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General would be tough on urban crime, corporate wrongdoers, and immigration violations. An analysis of his recent Senate confirmation testimony, record as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, and public comments as a U.S. Senator, provides a picture of some of the prosecution priorities that Sessions is likely to implement as Attorney General.

A former Assistant U.S. Attorney (1975-77), U.S. Attorney (1981-93), and Attorney General of Alabama (1995-97), Sessions is no newcomer to this field and has impressive qualifications for the role that he will occupy. He undoubtedly will bring strong support for law enforcement, respect for the rule of law, and a commitment to many of the law enforcement objectives outlined by President Donald Trump during the campaign.

During his confirmation testimony, Sessions expressed concern for the number of police officers killed in the line of duty, noting that many in law enforcement have felt abandoned by the “political leadership of this country” in recent years. He emphasized building trust between police and the communities they serve and the need for law enforcement to step up efforts to protect citizens in America’s cities. Coupled with President Trump’s comments on the campaign trail about the unacceptable level of inner city violence, and his recent suggestion that he may “send in the Feds” to help the City of Chicago get the rising murder rate under control, we can expect Sessions to devote substantial resources to increasing investigations and prosecutions of urban gang activity, drug-related violence, and criminal activity directed at law enforcement.

Relatedly, Senator Sessions has been a vocal opponent of state laws legalizing marijuana, which he has described as “dangerous” and likely a gateway drug to more addictive substances. We expect to see an eventual change in the Obama Administration’s hands-off policy on recreational marijuana and a renewed enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In the area of corporate crime, a Sessions’ Justice Department likely will maintain focus on white collar crime and continue efforts (currently reflected in DOJ’s Yates Memorandum) to prosecute individuals responsible for committing corporate crimes. In response to pointed questions during his confirmation hearing on whether he would continue investigations into white collar crime and corporate wrongdoing, Sessions said it seemed to him that “corporate officers who caused a problem should be subjected to more severe punishment than stockholders of the company who didn’t know anything about it.” This indicates a likely priority for enhancing the focus on culpable corporate officers and employees, rather than simply imposing significant civil fines and monetary penalties that might affect the share value of a company. Sessions’ past public comments as both a federal and state prosecutor, and as a Senator, also reflect a long-held belief that the prosecution of individuals serves as the most effective deterrent against future corporate wrongdoing. Expect this approach to continue under a Sessions’ Justice Department.

Finally, as recent headlines reflect, Trump is taking decisive, albeit controversial, actions on immigration and border control issues, consistent with positions and themes he articulated during the campaign. The President certainly will be looking to the DOJ to support these efforts, and to significantly enhance efforts to investigate and prosecute immigration and visa-related offenses and to deport undocumented offenders. Sessions has pledged during recent hearings to respect the civil and constitutional rights of all persons, but to aggressively enforce existing federal laws.

Jackson Lewis’ White Collar and Government Enforcement practice group includes former federal prosecutors, immigration specialists, and experienced defense practitioners who closely monitor changes and developments in federal criminal law and policy, and regularly advise and defend companies, municipalities, institutions, and individuals facing law enforcement and regulatory issues.

©2017 Jackson Lewis P.C. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis.

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