People who commit drug crimes can quickly find themselves facing federal charges. Following an investigation and indictment, defendants are then subject to a series of court dates as the trial draws near.
Although the crimes are serious, the court docket is long. Judges, lawyers and investigators are often overwhelmed by the caseload. Therefore, the system relies on bargaining through plea deals to dispose of cases. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder adopted a philosophy of only taking on federal cases that "served substantial interest" of the government.
This policy led to the fewest number of federal prosecutions in nearly 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, the federal government filed charges in approximately 77,000 cases, a 25 percent decline since 2011 and the lowest number since 1997. Crimes involving drugs, immigration and property were most likely to receive the attention of the federal government.
Prosecutions are down, but drug crimes are still in the spotlight
Despite the recent step back, crime experts predict Washington's attitude toward prosecution could change soon. The "tough on crime" posture held by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions could signal a shift in the way the Department of Justice pursues federal cases.
Sessions, since his appointment in January, has expressed his desire to enforce federal drug laws appropriately. Washington D.C. is hundreds of miles away but, the federal government's discretion on law enforcement can have a real impact on individuals in Georgia.
How do changes in government affect me?
Social attitudes toward drugs have lightened in recent years, but the law has not. Neither state nor federal guidelines are lenient toward drug offenders. Although the war on drugs was designed to target high-level traffickers, low-level users sometimes get caught up in serious charges as well.
Federal initiatives to crackdown on drug crimes could empower local law enforcement to do the same. First-time drug offenders in Georgia, including those charged with possession of heroin and cocaine, can lose their license for six months and face up to 15 years in prison.
The penalties are severe, but everyone charged with a crime is still entitled to due process. Because drug charges can have a long-term impact on life and liberty, people facing court dates and jail time should seek the help of an aggressive and reliable criminal defense attorney.