Okay, maybe I’m ranting, but the situation is unbelievable and Kafkaesque. The problem is deep and wide, systemic and yet easily correctable. Basically, in the country with the largest prison population in the world, the plea deal process is used and abused beyond belief.
Actually, it’s broken, according to Judge Jed Rakoff, who said to the NY Daily News in an exclusive interview that due to mandatory minimum sentencing, a huge number of (presumably) innocent people are bullied by prosecutors and they end up in jail without due process. Actually, due process is a rare bird, because just 3% of the defendants go to trial. Up to 8% of the prison population may actually be innocent people locked up because of false plea bargains, based on an estimate from the judge.
“The charges that carry mandatory minimums tend to be the type that involve poor people: drug, firearms cases,” says David Patton, executive director at the Federal Defenders of New York, which provides lawyers for defendants who can’t afford to hire their own. “These are where you have the most coercive situations.” (NY Daily News)
“Drug abuse is no doubt destructive to families and society, but mandatory minimum laws often do far more damage to families and society than the problems they were intended to fix.”
This particularly affects nonviolent offenders who “don’t always return to society as normal and productive citizens after serving hard time alongside rapists and murderers. Those who are released after decades of imprisonment often have trouble finding employment and suffer from a host of other problems related to their history. This is not proper justice — and it must end.”
Rand Paul’s assessment about the failed War on Drugs and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that went with it are absolutely correct. Putting people in jail (sometimes for life) over non-violent crimes is absurd and unpardonable in a well-adjusted society.
The laws must be changed (especially for non-violent offenders). We should start living in the present and stop putting people in jail for life over crimes that don’t deserve that type of sentencing!
“We went crazy on the War on Drugs. We have people in jail for life for nonviolent drug crimes. I think this is a crime in and of itself.”
Judge Rakoff calls for judges to get more involved in changing the status quo. He hopes to create a pilot program that will allow junior judges from the federal system to oversee and provide non-binding recommendations for the earlier stages of the plea bargaining process. This would reduce the power of prosecutors to put pressure on defendants.
As Judge Rakoff puts it:
“The current process is totally different from what the founding fathers had in mind, because nearly all cases end in pleas”. (NY Daily News)
In layman’s terms, if you can’t afford to pay for a good lawyer, you have to choose between going to jail and going to jail. You don’t have a real choice when the law comes with a “mandatory minimum sentence” in it.
What are your thoughts on the War on Drugs? Do you agree that change is needed…or do you disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments section or on Facebook.
Written by Chris Black
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