December 5, 2013

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty

Summary
Prosecutorial Power and Mandatory Sentences
Prior Convictions
Involvement of Weapons
Punishment to Fit the Crime?
Key Findings
A Call for Federal Reform
Looking Ahead
Recommendations
To Congress
To the Attorney General
Methodology
I. Federal Drug Sentencing and Swollen Federal Prison Populations
II. Federal Sentencing: Mandatory Sentences and Sentencing Guidelines
Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences
Conspiracy Laws: Ratcheting up the Drug Quantity
Mandatory Minimums: A Bad Idea at Best
Sentencing Guidelines
From Mandatory to Advisory
III: Upping the Ante: Mandatory Penalties for Prior Convictions and Gun Possession
Increased Sentences for Offenders with Prior Records
Prior Felony Enhancements as a Plea Bargaining Bludgeon
§924(c) Drug Offenders with Firearms: Even More Mandatory Sentences
IV. Limited Ways to Avoid Mandatory Sentences
Safety Valve
Substantial Assistance
Prosecutorial Discretion in Making Substantial Assistance Motions
V. The Plea Process
Pros and Cons of Plea Bargaining
What Happens in Plea Bargaining
VI. Doing Justice
Department of Justice Policy
Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Low-Level Offenders
Prior Felony Conviction Sentencing Enhancements
§924(c) Charges
Prosecutorial Culture
Going to Trial: All Bets Are Off
VII. Measuring the Trial Penalty
Trial Penalties for Defendants with Prior Felony Records or Guns
Prior Felony Conviction
§924(c)
VIII: Plea Bargains and Punishment: Legal Standards
Coercion and Retaliation
Cruel Sentences
IX: Conclusion
Appendix: Data by Federal District, FY 2012
Acknowledgments