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Study Slams Federal Prosecutors for Intimidating Defendants into Taking Plea Bargains

Posted on in Cook County criminal attorney

NPR recently reported on a new study that says the U.S. Justice Dept. regularly intimidates defendants who have been charged with federal drug offenses with stiff sentences prison sentences, or piling on additional charges, in order to pressure those defendants to plead guilty.

The study was conducted by Human Rights Watch, who issued their findings in a report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.” The report gives details about federal prosecutors charge defendants with crimes that carry severe mandatory prison sentences if they are found guilty – the group refers to the severity of the sentences as “draconian” in their report. In attempts at plea-bargaining, the federal prosecutors then offer much lighter sentences in exchange for guilty pleas.

Typically, the choice is plead guilty and receive a ten year prison sentence or go to trial and risk receiving a life sentence if found guilty. According to the study, 97 percent of defendants take the deals that federal prosecutors offer them, especially since most defendants charged with drug offenses are found guilty in federal courts.

The study determined that half of the inmates in overcrowded prisons across the country are there because they were charged with drug offenses and took the plea bargain deal offered. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses of ten years were enacted by Congress in the 1980s have contributed to this problem. The goal of the mandatory minimums was to keep the drug lords locked up. But instead, most of the prisoners sitting in jail serving the minimum 10 years were actually low-level dealers. And the study found dozens of cases where people who were charged with their first-offense ended up receiving prison sentences of fifty year or more.

The group writes about a 53 year old Texas woman who had no prior convictions. She was arrested with dealing methamphetamines and having guns in her home. Prosecutors offered a deal of 17 years in prison if she pled guilty. She refused and so prosecutors piled more charges. The woman was convicted and received a mandatory sentence of 45 years in prison.

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, you need to contact an Illinois criminal defense attorney to make sure your rights are protected from an overzealous prosecution.

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