“Prosecutors routinely threaten ultraharsh, enhanced mandatory sentences that no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate,” said Judge John Gleeson, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, reported the New York Times. The way prosecutors use this hammer, Judge Gleeson wrote, “coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”
The result is that federal drug trials have become a rarity: 97 percent of defendants plead guilty.
A new study by Human Rights Watch, in New York, is the first to quantify what some call the “trial penalty,” the extra prison time that federal drug defendants get if they exercise their right to a trial and lose.
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Ellen Canale, told the Times that the department “seeks to ensure that these enhancements are reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers” and “agrees that the enhancements should not be used to coerce defendants.”
William G. Otis, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and a former federal prosecutor, said that the reason defendants were in a poor bargaining position was not a result of prosecutors’ abuse, but because “there is solid proof they committed a crime.” The fact that violent crime has declined significantly over the last 20 years means that the system is generally working well, he told the Times.
To read more Click Here