The new top federal prosecutor for Central Illinois says the sweeping criminal justice reforms passed by Congress are already having an impact on his office.
The new bipartisan measures, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, reduce federal sentences for certain drug offenses and better prepare prisoners for life after incarceration. Specifically, it addresses prisoners who were sentenced before laws were changed in 2010 to lessen disparities between the penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. It allows these prisoners to petition the courts to review their cases in light of the updated law.
There are at least 80 or 90 cases in the 46-county Central Illinois district in which drug offenders may seek retroactive relief, said U.S. Attorney John Milhiser. That could be an immediate or early release, he said.
“We have a dedicated attorney now who’s going through the cases that are coming up where individuals will be getting out of prison because of this change in the law,” Milhiser said on GLT’s Sound Ideas.
Milhiser, the former Republican Sangamon County state’s attorney, is about three months into the job. Trump announced his appointment last summer, but he was only recently approved by the Senate. His selection won praise by Illinois Republicans and Democrats alike, including Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
Milhiser oversees a staff of around 70, including 35 criminal and civil attorneys, in four locations around central Illinois. That includes former McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery, the office’s law enforcement coordinator. The last permanent appointee to the top job was Jim Lewis, who led the office for over six years during the Obama administration.
Milhiser said the federal criminal justice reforms will also impact future defendants, by changing the decision-making process for prosecutors on where to file charges.
“A lot of times, when there are discussions between federal and state prosecutors, it’s about where’s the best place to prosecute this. Where is the law the most favorable to the prosecutor? Where, for a very violent offender, do we get the lengthiest sentence? Which is what we want, to lock this person up for as long as we can.
“It might affect some of those cases,” he said. “What might be in (federal) court based on prior criminal history that maybe now can’t be used, or the reduction in what those mandatory sentences are, maybe state court is the better place to prosecute that case.”
Hear more of GLT’s interview with Milhiser below:
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