News Release

NACDL survey: U.S. attorneys deny that Ashcroft policy affects pleas

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 under News & Issues. The text of the Sept. 22, 2003 Ashcroft memorandum can be found on the same site at under Legal Resources. 

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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.