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What about the prosecutors’ role in mandatory sentences?

6/9/2015
 
Source:  Brian A. Dupré, Washington Post, June 9, 2015


The June 7 front-page article “Against his better judgment,” about mandatory minimum sentencing in drug cases, quoted U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett telling a defendant, “My hands are tied on your sentence. I’m sorry.” The article failed to note that there is an actor in the system whose hands aren’t tied: the federal prosecutor. Federal prosecutors have the discretion to pursue lesser charges in these cases but choose not to.
 
Why would the prosecutor agree only to a plea bargain that carried a 10-year mandatory minimum for a defendant? How does he or she respond to the judge’s criticism? Why was such a decision made in light of the Justice Department’s August 2013 directive to assistant U.S. attorneys not to pursue charges bearing mandatory minimums against first-time nonviolent offenders?
 
An examination of this case or sentencing in general should not overlook the immense power prosecutors have to alleviate the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing or to perpetuate it.