The chief federal judge in Charlotte, N.C., has stopped accepting virtually all plea agreements, a move the Charlotte Observer says could dramatically slow prosecutions of bank robbers, drug dealers and white-collar criminals. Judge Graham Mullen’s new policy affects plea agreements that force criminals to give up their right to appeal. Those account for almost all plea agreements in federal courts in Charlotte and the Western District of North Carolina. Mullen called such agreements “unconscionable.”
Noting that federal prosecutors retain their right to appeal, the judge added: “Defendants have to take their chances with judges and the government does not. Even in guilty pleas, judges can make mistakes.”
“Refusal to enforce current and future plea agreements … is likely to bring the administration of justice in this jurisdiction to a grinding halt,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown.
“It’s a test of wills between Judge Mullen and the U.S. attorney’s office,” said one defense lawyer. “Something is going to have to give. Somebody is going to get their nose skinned up over this.” Said another defense lawyer: “If the government sticks to its guns and won’t change its plea agreements, defendants could be in trouble.”