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Federal Prosecutors Stick Too Big

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.