Federal prosecutors use the threat of harsh sentences to coerce defendants into bad plea bargains, Human Rights Watch concludes in a new report formally released Thursday.
The report, chiefly authored by Jamie Fellner and entitled "An Offer You Can't Refuse," deploys case studies as well as data to make the point. Here's one telling statistic concerning what the report dubs the "trial penalty":
In 2012, the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher, at 16 years, than that received after a guilty plea, at five years and four months.
The report, in particular, focuses on the role played by mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The mandatory minimums give prosecutors all the leverage they need to compel a guilty plea, which is now essentially the default result in federal court.
True fact: The percentage of federal drug cases resolved by a plea increased from 68.9 percent in 1980 to a remarkable 96.9 percent at present.
Lots of data here to chew over, with insights into the sentencing disparities across different regions. For instance, the average federal prison sentence for drugs in Arizona was 25 months. The average federal prison sentence for drugs in the Western District of Texas, which had roughly the same number of cases, was 59 months.