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Plea bargaining means higher sentences for defendants who go to trial.In 2012, the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).In essence, it is the price prosecutors make defendants pay for exercising their right to trial.US constitutional jurisprudence offers scant protection from prosecutors who are willing to pressure defendants into pleading and punish those who insist on going to trial.Eckles, Paladin, and Angelos were convicted of federal drug and gun offenses after rejecting plea offers and opting instead to go to trial.Prosecutors sought their remarkably long sentences—at least double the time they would have served had they agreed to plead—not only for their crimes, but for refusing to plead guilty on the prosecutors’ terms.
Most prosecutors will offer drug defendants some sort of plea agreement that reduces their sentence, sometimes substantially.Prosecutors, in effect, sentence convicted defendants by the charges they bring.Prosecutors typically charge drug defendants with offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences.Indeed, they file charges carrying high sentences fully expecting defendants to plead guilty. §924(c) prosecutors can file charges that dramatically increase a defendant’s sentence if a gun was involved in the drug offense.To secure the plea, prosecutors may then offer to lessen the charges, they may offer to reduce the ones that do not carry mandatory sentences, to stipulate to sentencing factors that lower the sentencing range under the sentencing guidelines or, at the very least, to support a reduced sentence based on the defendant’s willingness to accept responsibility for the offense, i.e., to plead guilty. Prosecutors will threaten to pursue these additional penalties unless the defendant pleads guilty – and they make good on those threats.
Mandatory minimum drug sentences are keyed to the weight of the drugs involved in the offense (and the weight of filler substances, like cornstarch, used to dilute the drug).