Report: Federal Prosecutors Trample Constitutional Rights in War on Drugs
The 7th Amendment to the Constitution allows for the right to a jury trial. The 8th Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments." A new report by Human Rights Watch shows that federal criminal defendants, especially those charged with drug crimes, are having their constitutional rights arguably stymied by aggressive federal prosecutors.
Human Rights Watch The De Facto Death of the Federal Criminal Jury Trial
This is because, with mandatory minimums and other tools at their disposal, prosecutors have the whip-hand over federal drug defendants.
For example, in one case from central Florida where a woman rejected a 10-year plea deal for possessing 50 grams of cocaine and chose to go to trial, the federal prosecutor took measures to enhance her punishment at the sentencing phase. Because of such, she ended up receiving a life sentence. There is no parole for federal crimes, so she will die in prison. When Human Rights Watch asked the federal prosecutor if he thought the punishment was just, he refused to comment.
This is not an isolated case. The federal criminal trial has largely disappeared -- only three percent, the HRW Report tells us, of federal criminal defendants go to trial. Of those three percent who roll the trial dice (and, let's face it, make the prosecutor work; a trial is much more difficult than drafting a plea agreement) end up "receiv[ing] sentences on average 11 years longer than those who" took a plea agreement. In federal district court for the Southern District of Texas -- which includes Houston, Galveston, McAllen and Corpus Christi -- over 97 percent of criminal defendants plead guilty (all of the Texas federal courts have over 95 percent plea rates).