Target: United States Attorney General Eric Holder
Goal: End the threat of extended sentences to coerce drug offenders to plead guilty and wave their right to a trial.
A recent Human Rights Watch report found that prosecutors use their discretion from judges in what charges are brought against drug offenders to coerce guilty pleas by threatening additional jail time. Under current law, federal and state prosecutors may notify the court of prior convictions or the involvement of a weapon after plea bargaining and this automatically triggers “sentencing enhancement”. Effectively, if a drug offender refuses to plea guilty, a prosecutor can turn a 10-year minimum sentence into a 20-year minimum sentence with one prior conviction and life without parole with two prior convictions. The threat of additional prison time is powerful; only 3% of drug defendants reach trial.
Prosecutors should be able to incentivize guilty pleas and cooperation through offers of moderate sentence reductions on minimum sentences. But the Department of Justice needs to ensure that prosecutors cannot force drug offenders to make a choice between life in prison and waiving their right to a trial. Therefore, federal and state prosecutors must be prohibited from a) threatening additional charges and higher sentences if a defendant refuses to plead guilty and b) filing additional charges after a defendant refuses.
Signing the following petition will urge Attorney General Eric Holder to bar prosecutors from coercing defendants using the threat of further indictment. The petition also demands that drug offenders be sentenced based solely on their conduct and culpability.
Dear United States Attorney General Eric Holder,
Prosecutors’ ability to add further indictment after plea deals are refused has, in effect, systematically denied drug offenders’ right to a trial and given disproportionate, unjust sentences to many. A report published by Human Rights Watch has revealed that prosecutors will coerce defendants using the threat of prior conviction and weapon possession charges that, due to mandatory minimum sentences, turn 10-year sentences into life sentences.
No one should have to risk life in prison for a free and fair trial. Therefore, I urge you to immediately order prosecutors to: a) stop threatening additional charges and higher sentences if a defendant refuses plead guilty, b) cease filing additional charges after a defendant refuses and c) only seek indictments for charges that would carry fair and proportionate sentences. In addition, I request that you make it a Department of Justice goal to have sentences proportionate to conduct and culpability for every drug offender.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Andy Clark/REUTERS 2001