In the United States, people can land in prison for life over minor offenses. They can be locked up forever for siphoning gasoline from a truck, shoplifting small items from a department store or attempting to cash a stolen check. Sentences across the United States in the last 30 years have doubled. Roy Lee Clay, for example, received in 2013 a sentence of mandatory punishment of life without parole for refusing to accept a plea bargain of 10 years for trafficking 1kg of heroin. Even the sentencing judge found this “extremely severe and harsh”. The bigger picture: a recent Human Rights Watch report found that the threat of harsh sentences leads 97% of drug defendants to plead guilty rather than exercise their right to a public trial.
citizens are shocked when they hear such reports. Federal judge John
New York said that the way prosecutors use plea bargaining “coerces
guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take
your breath away”. Federal judge Mark
Iowa has described the “shocking, jaw-dropping disparity” of
prior-conviction enhancements to force a plea bargain in a case.