Drug offenders are waiving their right to trial due to fears over tough minimum sentences, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.
Ninety-seven percent of federal drug defendants agree to plea bargains with an average prison sentence of 5 years. The penalty for similar offenses that go to trial carry prison terms of 16 years.
In 1990, 84% of federal cases resulted in a plea bargain. Prosecutors often charge drug defendants with crimes that carry high mandatory sentences, leaving judges with little choice than to mete out harsh punishments to defendants found guilty.
Attorney General Eric Holder has called on prosecutors to stop charging defendants in a manner that triggers these mandatory minimums. Critics of the high number of plea bargains say the extremely harsh sentences that result from going to trial could pressure the innocent into pleading guilty.
Should drug and other offenders be offered plea bargains? If you've been the victim of a crime, would you prefer the criminal to face a public trial? If you've been a defendant in a case, did you feel pressure to plead guilty? And do you now wish you'd face a trial?
Jackie Lacey, District Attorney, Los Angeles County
Judge Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge and law professor at Harvard.