U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. voiced his strong support today for a proposed change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to reduce prison sentences for less serious drug trafficking crimes—and has instructed prosecutors not to object if defendants want those new rules applied to them now.

Testifying at a U.S. Sentencing Commission hearing in Washington, Holder endorsed the proposed change in guideline §2D1.1. The change would affect nearly 70 percent of all drug trafficking offenders and reduce the average sentence by 11 months, the commission said.

The commission first published the proposed change in January, saying it would help curb the growing Bureau of Prisons budget by reducing the inmate population by 6,550 inmates after five years.

“This would have the effect of modestly reducing guideline penalties for drug trafficking offenses while keeping the guidelines consistent with current statutory minimums – and continuing to ensure tough penalties for violent criminals, career criminals, or those who used weapons when committing drug crimes,” Holder told the commission.

“This straightforward adjustment to sentencing ranges – while measured in scope – would nonetheless send a strong message about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” Holder testified. “And it would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety.”

The Justice Department said today that, while the commission considers the proposed changes, prosecutors will be directed not to object if defendants in court seek to have the newly proposed guidelines applied to them during sentencing. The commission is expected to vote on the proposal endorsed by Holder in April.

Holder said the proposed change fits into the “Smart on Crime” initiative he first announced in August.

That included a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies on certain low-level, nonviolent federal drug crimes.