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Trial Penalty

NACDL seeks your assistance with an important project that will highlight the penalty federal defendants face if they exercise their right to go to trial due to the great discrepancy between post-trial sentences and those offered as part of a plea agreement.  The project seeks to underscore the ability and willingness of federal prosecutors to exploit that discrepancy to force defendants to plead guilty.

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Human Rights Watch recently issued a report summarizing extensive statistical and anecdotal evidence of this trial penalty and how federal sentencing laws exacerbate the problem, specifically focusing on federal drug defendants. You can also listen to a podcast describing the report on NACDL's The Criminal Docket. 

Recognizing that drug defendants are not unique in being subject to excessive and coercive post-trial sentences, NACDL is planning to issue a companion report focusing on federal criminal prosecutions generally and, specifically, focusing on the trial penalty in federal cases not involving drug prosecutions. 

NACDL seeks help in collecting data that can be used in the report.  In particular, the research team seeks case-specific information to provide a human face to the issue.  NACDL will not use your client's name or your name or identifying information without explicit permission to do so.  What is important is to document the circumstances of the case.  It will be helpful, however if you or your client is willing to speak out on the issue.

These are examples of the types of cases needed for the project:

  • Cases where a defendant went to trial and received a far more severe sentence than what he/she had been offered during plea negotiations
  • Cases where a defendant agreed to plead guilty even though he/she thought there was a chance of acquittal at trial because the likelihood that the sentence imposed after trial would be dramatically higher than if he/she accepted the plea bargain
  • Cases where one defendant chose to go to trial and the other agreed to plead guilty and the sentences they received were disproportionate to their role in the crime or their level of culpability

If you know of a federal case that fits within these categories – or that otherwise demonstrates the coercive nature of prosecutorial discretion over sentencing decisions – please take a few minutes to complete our online questionnaire and please provide your contact information so we can follow-up with you.

Begin the Survey 

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