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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact:Jason Attermann
March 10, 2020 202-225-3001
U.S. Reps. Ask Justice Dept. to Review Trial Penalties in Clemency Considerations
 
(Washington) Today, U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (FL-22), Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL), and Veronica Escobar (TX-16) led 45 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter urging the Department of Justice to review whether a criminal defendant received a "trial penalty" as the President considers clemency petitions.

Trial penalties are the sentences issued for criminal defendants that are harsher than what had been offered in exchange for a guilty plea. As the letter states, "Instead of accepting a guilty plea, a criminal defendant decides to pursue their 6th Amendment right to a jury trial. The trial penalty results in a significantly longer prison sentence than those imposed on more culpable defendants who voluntarily waive their constitutional right to a jury trial."

In the letter, the Members of Congress cite a 2018 study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers which found that 97% of criminal cases are resolved in a plea. "This strongly suggests that the risk of going to trial is too great for all but 3% of federal criminal defendants," the Members write.

The letter was co-signed by Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, James P. McGovern, Eliot L. Engel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Brian Fitzpatrick, Brad Sherman, Jamie Raskin, Ben McAdams, Jerrold Nadler, Karen Bass, Hakeem Jeffries, Steve Watkins, David N. Cicilline, Mark Walker, Yvette D. Clarke, Tim Burchett, Joseph P. Kennedy, III, Madeleine Dean, Adriano Espaillat, Steve Cohen, David Trone, Brian Mast, Ted Lieu, Mark E. Green, Ted S. Yoho, Mark Meadows, Vicente Gonzalez, Cedric Richmond, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Nydia M. Velázquez, Troy Balderson, Daniel P. Meuser, John Lewis, Bill Foster, Barbara Lee, Alcee L. Hastings, Terri A. Sewell, Bill Pascrell, Jr., Jan Schakowsky, Lucy McBath, Morgan Griffith, Greg Steube, Jody Hice, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and Sean Patrick Maloney.

The letter is included below, and the signed letter can be accessed here.



Dear Acting Pardon Attorney Sargent-Burns,

We write to urge you to use your authority when reviewing requests for clemency to consider individual criminal sentences that are significantly harsher than the original sentence offered by the prosecuting attorney in exchange for a guilty plea.

These harsher sentences - also referred to as the “trial penalty” - can be imposed when a criminal defendant decides against accepting a guilty plea. Instead of accepting a guilty plea, a criminal defendant decides to pursue their 6th Amendment right to a jury trial. The trial penalty results in a significantly longer prison sentence than those imposed on more culpable defendants who voluntarily waive their constitutional right to a jury trial.

The “trial penalty” also impacts the criminal justice system when criminal defendants plead guilty to avoid a threatened or perceived consequence of going to trial. These criminal defendants may have valid claims or a defense that could be raised at a trial. However, these defendants are made aware of or are advised that taking the chance to go to trial could lead to unduly harsh penalties.

Harsher trial sentences have been used to deter people from exercising their 6th Amendment right to a trial. A 2018 study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers found that 97% of criminal cases are resolved in a plea. This strongly suggests that the risk of going to trial is too great for all but 3% of federal criminal defendants.

We therefore request that, when reviewing individual petitions for clemency, you request information from U.S. Attorneys on what sentencing offers were extended to the defendant as part of any plea deal. This information can be compared with the sentence that the criminal defendant received to determine if they received a “trial penalty.” The “trial penalty” should be considered in clemency petitions by the President.

Sincerely,


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