Our legislators have so empowered the prosecutors, that many defendants
and suspects are too scared to take their cases to trial, even when they
are innocent. This is because of the "trial tax." If they don't
take a plea, they get hammered at sentencing if they lose the case. This
circumvents true justice. Some feel that our lawmakers can fix this by
addressing the sentencing laws.
Frankly, as a Kansas
criminal defense lawyer, I think our Kansas state legislators have done a good job dealing
with this issue for our Kansas State courts. However, some states don't
do as well. Furthermore, the federal prosecutors seem to have all the
power in the world. Some people love the government having all the power
to do as they wish.
The suicide of Aaron Swartz has led to some reevaluation about the power
of federal prosecutors. There is significant disgust toward U.S. Attorney,
Carmen Ortiz. She is the lawyer who pressed federal computer fraud charges
against Swartz. He was so overcome by the threats of the federal prosecutor,
that he committed suicide. He was offered a plea deal of six months, but
faced up to 35 years in prison if he turned it down. That's a BIG
stick the federal prosecutors have.
There are numerous other horrors stories. For example: 62 year old Vietnam
vet, Ronald Thompson, fired two warning shots into the dirt to scare away
teenagers who were threatening his elderly neighbor. The prosecutor, offered
him a deal to plead guilty and serve three years in custody. He declined
and ended up being sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 20 years. This
sentencing law is broken! In Kansas, we have a mechanism to deal with
that, called a motion for a durational departure. It allows the criminal
defense lawyer to file a motion, asking the judge not to follow the guidelines
provided by the legislature, due to certain factors.
Another example. Weldon Angelos sold marijuana on a few occasions. He had
in his possession, but never used a gun. He was a first time offender.
The plea deal called for 16 years in prison. He declined and went to trial.
He was sentenced to the mandatory minimum term of 55 years. Again. Broken law.
What's the problem here? People are getting extra hammered by the system,
not for their crimes, but because they exercised the Constitutional right
to a trial.