A recent study shows that federal drug cases rarely go to trial, with 97% of those that plead guilty taking an offer from the prosecutor that they can't refuse.
The prosecutor has the right to charge a person in a way that gives them exposure to longer sentences and therefore, having them plea in a way that gives them a lesser sentence, yet still longer than perhaps reasonable given the charge. Retired Superior Court Judge Eugene Hyman of Santa Clara, California, believes this is unfair given the totality of the circumstances. However, if there is a factual basis for the plea, the judge has to determine this.
Hyman says what the study demonstrates isn't just the fact that in many cases the prosecutors are over-charging but that it also demonstrates that under federal law, how little federal judges have with respect to discretion in terms of making the situation more reasonable.
Federal judges have life appointments so they're in a better position to make the right call without the concern of political fallout regarding elections. State judges, on the other hand, have more political concerns, says Hyman.
While the study was limited to drug cases, Hyman thinks it could apply to general cases because prosecutors, as part of the executive branch, have a lot of deference given to them in terms of charging. The judges, for the most part, concern themselves with sentencing based upon conviction. Federal judges have very little discretion in terms of how they can sentence, where the state has a little more but still not a whole lot, Hyman notes.
The question isn't whether there's enough evidence to convict, rather what is the best interest of justice with respect to how much of a sentence is given. Hyman says that the federal courts are just beginning to roll out drug treatment courts while the state courts have been doing this for year and thinks that defendants aren't given a chance for rehabilitation in the federal courts, which could have a lot of fallout in terms of how it affects their family as a whole.
Honorable Judge Eugene Hyman has received numerous awards and recognition for his work with families and children and has appeared on numerous television news shows. For more information, visit www.judgehyman.com. He is also a featured commentator on The Family Law Channel and The Legal Broadcast Network. For more information on the article in the Wall Street Journal, click here.