97 percent of drug defendants forgo their right to trial and plead out. HRW highlights undue prosecutorial power
“It is very clear that prosecutors control the criminal justice system through their charging and plea bargaining powers,” wrote Angela Davis last year, commenting on the fact that 95 percent of defendants in criminal case forego their day in court and opt instead to plead guilty. Buoyed by mandatory minimum sentence laws, prosecutors hold undue power and leverage in the U.S. judicial system.
A new report from Human Rights Watch released Thursday bears out Davis’ point precisley. “Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty,” the human rights group found. Looking specifically at drug cases (the primary filler of brimming U.S. prisons), the HRW report found that “only 3 percent of U.S. drug defendants in federal cases chose to go to trial.”
The right to trial, in the face of prosecutorial bargaining power, is de facto obliterated. What, after all, is a right if recourse to it appears as no option at all? HRW goes as far as to say that drug defendants — often caught for minor offenses — are “forced” to plead guilty when prosecutors present the risk of years in prison as the alternative. (more…)