Federal Drug Defendants Who Don’t Plead Guilty Spend Three Times Longer In Prison, Report Finds

By Nicole Flatow

Article Reprintlong prison 2

In a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the right to a lawyer during plea bargaining, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that 95 percent of convicted U.S. criminal defendants enter into a plea bargain and never go to trial. That percentage is even higher for drug defendants, who enter into plea deals in 97 percent of federal cases, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. Prosecutors have had a significant hand in turning the criminal justice system into a system of pleas, wielding in many instances the threat of harsh mandatory minimum prison terms and other sentencing enhancements so severe that defendants may frequently plead guilty simply to avert the high risk. As Human Rights Watch phrased it, prosecutors “force” defendants to plead guilty.

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