Tag Archive: Justice

For Shame! Public Shaming Sentences on the Rise

dunce_capFrom Prison Legal News/ by David M. Reutter

Punishments intended to shame offenders for wrongdoing, popular throughout history, are once again on the rise – particularly as penalties imposed by judges who enjoy seeing their names in the newspaper or on television due to their “creative” sentencing practices.

Whether judges hand down sentences that humiliate defendants for the purpose of entertainment, self-aggrandizement or as a unique way of deterring crime with a “punishment that fits” is subject to debate. The only certainty is that most sanctions designed to shame offenders are legal, so long as judges do not go too far.

Shaming criminals has long been an integral part of America’s criminal justice system, and public whipping and the stocks were commonly used in Puritan and colonial times. During that era, imprisonment was reserved for debtors and those awaiting trial; upon conviction, a judge could order an offender to be executed, flogged, banished or shamed. (more…)

Report: Nearly all drug defendants “forced” to plead guilty

Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill

Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill

97 percent of drug defendants forgo their right to trial and plead out. HRW highlights undue prosecutorial power

from Salon

“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…)