Individuals pleading guilty due to sentence-related coercion

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Drug Crimes on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A report recently released by Human Rights Watch indicates that the Justice System regularly engages in coercion of federal drug defendants. Specifically, the report alleges that individuals arrested on charges of federal drug crimes are coerced into entering guilty pleas by various methods. Among the methods of coercion used by the Justice Department are threats of stacking charges against the defendants in order to increase potential incarceration terms and threats of overly long terms of imprisonment generally.

According to the report, a staggering 97 percent of individuals arrested on federal drug charges plead guilty. This is no doubt partially due to the fact that individuals who request a trial and are convicted are sentenced to imprisonment terms that are 11 years longer on average than those faced by individuals who plead guilty from the start. Justice Department prosecutors make it clear to arrested persons that unless they plead guilty, extremely long terms of imprisonment will await them upon conviction.

This kind of coercion is absolutely unacceptable, as is the seemingly unchecked power that federal prosecutors are granted in regards to these kinds of cases. The right to a fair trial is sacred in this country. That right is compromised when prosecutors insist that exercising the options afforded by this right will guarantee anyone either rightfully or wrongfully convicted a far longer prison sentence for the same crime than an individual who pleads guilty to it.

In addition to reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws and enhancement policies, the federal government needs to reform the ways in which prosecutors are allowed to approach the subject of guilty pleas in federal drug crimes cases. Failure to reform this approach undermines the integrity of the entire criminal justice system.

Source: NPR, “Report: Threat Of Mandatory Minimums Used To Coerce Guilty Pleas,” Carrie Johnson, Dec. 5, 2013