Federal criminal prosecution priorities announced in E.D. of Virginia

The remarks of the U.S. Attorney General may predict future federal prosecutorial activity.

The new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions chose Richmond, Virginia, as the platform for announcing his priorities for the Department of Justice or DOJ. In a March 15, 2017, public address, he indicated that federal law enforcement will focus on violent crime. He said the DOJ will both support state and local law enforcement in reducing violent crime as well as focus federal resources on this goal.

National spotlight on violent crime

Sessions cited a significant increase in the violent crime rate nationally in just the past couple of years, despite that "crime rates in our country remain near historic lows." He indicated that the new, recent upward trend is likely not just a "blip" and went on to outline his plans to carry out the president's orders to "reduce crime and restore public safety."

Three-pronged goal

He outlined three priorities for federal law enforcement:

  • Federal resources will go toward stopping the "surge" in violence, including a new DOJ task force on reducing crime and evaluating federal criminal-justice resources.
  • Federal prosecutors will refocus on "systematically" prosecuting people who use firearms during criminal activity.
  • Federal law enforcement will "dismantle" "transnational cartels" that introduce drugs to feed the "heroin and opioid crisis," bringing violence. Emphasis will also be on prosecuting members of local gangs that illegally distribute the drugs.

As part of the second priority, Sessions supports the national expansion of programs like Project Exile, which was a federal strategy to reduce murder involving gun violence in Richmond. The project imposed extremely stiff sentencing for people formerly convicted of felonies who illegally carried guns. (Such a defendant is called a felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm or a FIP.)

The project also included a significant outreach program to educate the public about the stiff consequences to felons caught unlawfully with firearms. According to the National Institute of Justice, Project Exile was associated with a reduction in "firearm-related homicides" in the Richmond target area.

What does this policy mean for Virginians?

The upcoming emphasis on tough prosecution of violent crimes, especially those involving drugs, firearms and gangs, may increase federal investigations, arrests, charges and prosecutions of related federal crimes. Unfortunately, a broad sweep of the community in the search for actual criminal activity may at times result in charges against the innocent or in charges inappropriately severe for the actual circumstances.

Any Virginian who suspects he or she may be under federal investigation, who has been approached by federal law enforcement or who already faces federal criminal charges should immediately speak with a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer will communicate with the prosecution and launch an investigation on behalf of the client.

The consequences of a federal criminal conviction can be devastating and lifelong. Penalties can include prison time, restitution, fines, probation and more. A felony conviction in particular may deprive a defendant of certain rights even after having served the sentence. Other negative consequences of a federal criminal record may be harm to personal and professional relationships and reputation, as well as a bar to certain jobs or professional licenses.

For these reasons, engaging an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early as possible is critical so legal counsel can launch a vigorous defense to federal charges and fight to protect the client's constitutional and legal rights at every step.

The lawyers at Timothy J. Quick, P.C., with offices in Virginia Beach and Hampton, fight for the rights of those charged with federal crimes in the Eastern District of Virginia as well as defend against misdemeanor and felony charges in state courts.