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The Shocking Power of Federal Prosecutors and How Lawyers Fight Back

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 11:43 am


The Shocking Power of Federal Prosecutors and How Lawyers Fight Back

Federal prosecutors have an incredible amount of power that is often shocking to defendants. They decide who to charge with crimes, what crimes to charge them with, and what kind of plea deals to offer. The federal criminal justice system is set up to encourage defendants to take plea deals rather than go to trial. Going to trial is very risky because federal prosecutors win over 90% of cases. Even innocent people often take plea deals to avoid long mandatory minimum sentences if convicted at trial.

Federal prosecutors have so much power because Congress passes laws with harsh mandatory minimum sentences. Even low level crimes like drug possession have mandatory minimums of 5, 10, 15 years or more. Prosecutors use the threat of long mandatory sentences to get defendants to take plea deals for lesser charges.

Another reason federal prosecutors are so powerful is they decide what evidence to use at trial. They use legal loopholes to get evidence admitted that would normally be excluded. For example, federal agents do illegal searches without warrants, but prosecutors find excuses to get the evidence admitted. Defense lawyers argue it should be excluded, but judges usually side with the prosecution.

Prosecutors also have the power to pile on charges for the same crime. For example, if a defendant sells drugs one time, they could be charged with 5 different charges for that single act. Each charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence, so the defendant is facing a potential life sentence for one minor crime.

Many legal experts argue federal prosecutors have too much power. Their harsh tactics force innocent people to plead guilty out of fear. Its easy for them to get convictions because the rules favor the prosecution. Some reforms have been proposed, like reducing mandatory minimums and improving police training. But so far, federal prosecutors power remains unchecked.

How Defense Lawyers Try to Fight Back

Fighting federal prosecutors is an uphill battle, but there are strategies defense lawyers use to protect their clients rights:

  • File motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence – If agents violated rights, evidence may be excluded
  • Negotiate plea deals for lesser charges – Avoid mandatory minimums with prosecutorial discretion
  • File appeals challenging procedural errors – Get convictions overturned due to technical mistakes
  • Argue for variances at sentencing – Judges can impose less than minimums if unfair
  • Claim selective prosecution – Argue defendants were unfairly singled out
  • File habeas petitions – Challenge convictions post-trial for constitutional issues

One important defense strategy is understanding mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Defense lawyers analyze the charges to see if they were applied accurately. Sometimes they can get charges reduced or dropped if the guidelines were misapplied.

Another strategy is digging into the defendants background and personal circumstances for mitigating factors. Defense lawyers present sympathetic details about the defendant like mental health issues, abuse suffered, good works done, etc. This can influence prosecutors decisions on plea deals, and judges discretion at sentencing if it goes to trial.

But despite their best efforts, defense lawyers know beating federal prosecutors is an uphill battle. The system is rigged against defendants from the start. Until reforms are made, federal prosecutors will continue wielding unchecked power over peoples lives.

Key Federal Criminal Justice System Issues

Here are some of the most important issues in the federal criminal justice system that enable prosecutors power:

Harsh Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Mandatory minimums are a key source of prosecutors power. Even low level crimes carry multi-year minimums like:

  • Drug possession – 5-10 years
  • Gun possession – 5 years
  • Child pornography – 5 years
  • Identity theft – 2 years

Prosecutors use these to force plea deals. Some argue mandatory minimums should be reduced or eliminated to curb prosecutorial overreach. But Congress continues passing laws with harsh mandatory sentences.


Expansive Rules of Evidence

Another issue is the rules of evidence favor federal prosecutors. They can get illegally obtained evidence admitted through exceptions and legal loopholes. Defense arguments to exclude evidence often fail even when officers violate constitutional rights.

For example, federal agents routinely do warrantless searches and seizures that violate the 4th Amendment. But prosecutors argue exceptions like “plain view,” “exigent circumstances,” or “inevitable discovery” to get the evidence admitted. Judges tend to side with the prosecution.


Coercion of Witnesses

Prosecutors often use questionable tactics like threats and intimidation to coerce witnesses into testifying against defendants. They threaten charges or prison if witnesses dont cooperate. Even when witnesses have credibility issues or ulterior motives, prosecutors use them at trial.

Prosecutors also offer incentives like immunity, plea deals, and cash payments in return for testimony. They withhold evidence that witnesses have been compensated from the defense. Paid witnesses have motivation to lie on the stand, but jurors dont know.


Prosecutorial Misconduct

There are many examples of federal prosecutors engaging in misconduct like suppressing evidence, misleading the court, intimidating witnesses, falsifying testimony, and other unethical behavior. But they are rarely disciplined or penalized. Courts tend to turn a blind eye even in egregious cases.

Prosecutors have immunity for misconduct related to their jobs. The only recourse is reporting them to state bar associations, but serious punishment is rare. Until prosecutors are held accountable, misconduct will persist.


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