A new report from Human Right Watch is confirming a situation that thousands of defense attorneys and defendants all over the U.S. have known for years: prosecutors wield far too much power in the United States' criminal justice system. As a result of arcane mandatory minimum laws, laws which effectively strip judges of their abilities to impose sentencing which reflects extenuating circumstances in criminal cases, prosecutors have an unfair advantage in the legal process.
According to the report a staggering 95 percent of those charged with a crime in this country give up their constitutional right to a trial, and instead plead guilty. This is due in large part to the fact that prosecutors are allowed to threaten defendants with severe prison sentences, essentially compelling the defense team to plead down the charge and accept some jail time or other penalties. Drug cases are targeted especially fervently. Only 3 percent of drug defendants choose to go to trial in
federal drug cases.
Prosecutors have essentially decided that if a defendant does not play ball they deserve to have the book thrown at them. Cases abound in which the defendants, who have dared go against the government and exercise their right to trial, have received extremely harsh sentences after losing in court. One defendant, Mary Beth Looney, was sentenced to 45 years in prison on a methamphetamine and gun charge. She was a first time offender and had declined the prosecutor's offer of 17 years in prison to plead guilty. These kinds of cases are causing many in the legal community to question how a defendant can face more time if they choose to go to court than if they were to plead guilty in the first place.
Whether or not a defendant has actually committed the crime now seems to be less a concern, on both sides, than the possible penalties which may be extracted if the case were to go to court. Defendants, whether truly guilty or innocent, often worry about facing possible life in prison if they are convicted, and frequently plead down.
Prosecutors, looking for an easy open and shut case with which to pad their records, apply the pressure and look for the defendant to cop-out. Far too often these convictions are in relation to relatively minor nonviolent drug offenses.
These facts have led to the United States having the highest rate of incarceration in the world, higher than China, Russia, and North Korea. These facts also call into question prosecutors' strong-arm tactics. Surely there is a better way to encourage social behavior while giving defendants a fair shake a justice.
Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer with offices in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Morgantown West Virginia.
If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges, contact Attorney Frank Walker immediately at 412-315-7441, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for aggressive and experienced Criminal Defense.