The U.S. Sentencing Commission says the use of mandatory minimum punishments for federal drug defendants has declined even further in the last year.

The panel, which sets sentencing policy, announced Monday that 45.8 percent of drug offenders were convicted in fiscal year 2015 of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

crushed pill (Adam Smigielski, ThinkStock)

The new figure represents a drop from the prior fiscal year, when more than 50 percent of drug defendants faced mandatory minimum sentences.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in February 2015 that that percentage was the lowest rate on record.

The Sentencing Commission announcement suggests that federal prosecutors are continuing to follow guidance issued in 2013 by Holder, who directed Justice Department attorneys to limit their use of mandatory minimum punishments as part of the Smart on Crime initiative.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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