It seems like an impossible choice to decide between entering a guilty plea for 10 years or going to court and potentially getting life in prison, but these are the kinds of choices that defendants in Asbury Park have to make every day. Unfortunately, despite the talk of changing mandatory minimum sentences, individuals facing federal drug charges in New Jersey, especially those individuals with previous criminal charges, may find themselves pleading guilty to crimes they never committed because it is the lesser of two evils. And with a risk of life in prison, it is not that unimaginable of a choice.
Ultimately, however, whether someone chooses to plead guilty or not is up to that individual alone. No one can force him or her to accept a plea deal, although a criminal defense attorney can provide important advice about the rights he or she would be giving up, as well as the risks associated with going to trial. Whether a defendant wants to plead guilty or not, he or she should not do anything until first consulting a lawyer.
The threat of harsh prison sentences, sometimes as long as life in prison, is enough to convince most defendants to accept plea bargains. In fact, 97 percent of defendants facing federal drug charges will plead guilty. Some people defend these kinds of numbers, saying that the draw to plea deals indicate that there is considerable evidence supporting a conviction. A large number of people, including judges and prosecutors, however, believe that the decision between overly harsh sentences and plea deals is unfair.
It is not just them, however, that believe the rules are unfair, but until there is a more complete change to sentencing guidelines, defendants will be forced to make difficult decisions.
Source: The New York Times, “Prosecutors Draw Fire for Sentences Called Harsh,” Erik Eckholm, Dec. 5, 2013