Washington, DC (December 10, 2003) -- A new “get tough” plea bargaining policy issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in September has not resulted in any major changes in the courtroom, according to a recent poll of U.S. attorney’s offices around the country conducted by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The survey indicates that most offices considered themselves already in compliance with the Ashcroft directive. “It has not affected us at all,” said a spokesman for Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr. “Our policies are pretty much the same.” Other offices agreed, on and off the record.
Ashcroft sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys Sept. 22 ordering that federal prosecutors must charge the most serious “readily provable” charge. Plea bargains in most cases are to be limited to the most serious charge, even in cases where the defendant agrees to cooperate and become a witness for the government.
NACDL President E.E. (Bo) Edwards, Nashville, said he was surprised to hear that the charging and plea policies are "business as usual" in many offices for some time, according to the report. “But most important, perhaps, is that now we have a better idea of just how the ‘Ashcroft policy’ is affecting things nationwide,” he said.
NACDL contacted large and small U.S. attorneys offices across the country serving urban, suburban and rural areas in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maine, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington state. The full text of the report can be found on the NACDL Web site at www.nacdl.org under News & Issues. The text of the Sept. 22, 2003 Ashcroft memorandum can be found on the same site at www.nacdl.org/departures under Legal Resources.
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