We’ve all seen this scenario in the movies before. A guy gets caught by the cops smuggling and selling large amounts of drugs, and during the interrogation at the police station, the cops offer him a deal, admit guilt on the spot and get a break or go to trial and get the maximum sentence.
In most cases, the guy keeps quiet and does his time; however, it’s a completely different story in real life.
A new study published by Human Rights Watch indicates that only 3 percent of drug suspects refuse a plea deal and choose to take their cases to trial. This remarkably low number is because the criminal justice system, specifically with drug crimes, is essentially set up to force drug suspects into pleading guilty without a trial.
If a suspect take a case to trial and loses, that person will most likely receive the maximum sentence for their crime. Essentially, the suspects are being punished for exercising their right to a trial and using the judicial system for its intended purpose. The courts seem to already see drug trials as a waste of time because its as if they view them as a misallocation of state and federal resources.
“If you can get someone to acknowledge guilt without the burden and expense of a trial, without having to marshal witnesses and line up witnesses, and without risking an acquittal, why not?” said Human Rights Watch attorney Jamie Fellner. “You don’t have the cost of a trial, it doesn’t take the time and resources, and it increases the notches on your belt of how many convictions you’ve gotten.”
According to the study, suspects who lost their trial received sentences that were three times harsher than similar cases in which the accused took a plea deal. Human Rights Watch released the study only months after the recent announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
In August, Holder announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to overhaul federal drug prosecutions. In the 1980s, during the height of the crack epidemic, the justice department started to enact mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders.
But all that measure has done is overcrowd our prisons and dump billions of dollars into an already stagnant and fruitless 50-year drug war.
“As the so-called ‘war on drugs’ enters its fifth decade, . . . we need to ask whether it . . . [has] been truly effective,” said Holder in his address. Holder continued, promising that drug offenders “will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”
If the DOJ makes good on its promise, the numbers that were illustrated in the Human Rights Watch report will drop, and hopefully drug enforcement will be less iron-fisted.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.