The Maryland man refused to plead guilty to allegations that he had trafficked drugs, even though prosecutors were pressuring him to admit to the crime. The result: The man was convicted by a jury, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison because of the drug charges. Although this might sound like a reasonable sequence of events for a criminal case, advocates say that defendants may be admitting to crimes they did not commit in order to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. These guidelines require harsh penalties for so-called repeat offenders.
Plea bargains are useful in some criminal cases, but criminal defendants should never feel pressured to admit to false allegations. Some Maryland attorneys say exactly that is happening, however, when defendants are left with few options as prosecutors bear down on them with threats of major sentences. Even though the mandatory minimums are rarely used in the state, human rights advocates say that the simple existence of those rules can be enough to scare those facing drug charges into surrendering some of their rights.