July 7, 2012 in Letters, Opinion

Drug war the culprit


Jeffry Finer (June 30) presents an idealized version of how federal drug cases are handled. The way the system really works is revealed in the 2004 U.S. Sentencing Commission Report: “Fifteen Years of Guidelines Sentencing, An Assessment of How Well the Federal Criminal Justice System is Achieving the Goals of Sentencing Reform.”

The commission admits that most bargaining on substance-abuse charges is done behind the scenes, making impossible any factual analysis of plea bargains. The only person who could have offered Charles Wallace a deal is the U.S. attorney. Since the mid-1980s, federal prosecutors’ power has increased dramatically, while judges’ power has diminished. The deal offered Charles Wallace, most likely, was to troll for more heroin users, to be an informant and possibly avoid going to prison.

Wacky idea? No: About 97 percent of federal drug cases are handled by guilty pleas and agreements to cooperate. Prosecutors justify routine use of informants as necessary and won’t reveal facts the public should know.

Today’s federal judges aren’t scapegoats, just paper-pushing clerks in the decades-old failure to prohibit and control certain drugs.

Chuck Armsbury


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