DOJ Agrees Sentence Threats Shouldn’t Be Used To Coerce Suspects


In a follow-up on yesterday’s Human Rights Watch report charging that federal prosecutors coerce drug defendants into guilty pleas by threatening them with lengthy mandatory prison terms, Michael Nachmanoff, chief federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, tells the New York Times that the prospect of staggering penalties puts defense lawyers in the position of urging clients to consider a plea to avoid them, even if the lawyers see a chance of acquittal or reduced charges. “I tell people, 'If you think 10 years is too long to serve and the other option is to get 20, I want you to think, how would you feel nine years from now?' ” he said. “Those aren't the options people should have.” Attorney General Eric Holder in August called for “fundamentally rethinking” drug sentencing, saying that many “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders” should not be charged with “offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.” Justice Department spokeswoman Ellen Canale said this week that the department “seeks to ensure that these enhancements are reserved for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers” and “agrees that the enhancements should not be used to coerce defendants.”

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