October 31, 2007


Let's see if I understand this story correctly: Katie Heath, a 27-year-old woman in Illinois, was convicted for selling meth and spent a year in state prison (much of that while pregnant). She came out, met the parole requirements, cleaned up her life, found a job, and enrolled in school. But then, a few months later, federal prosecutors came knocking and indicted her again for basically the same crime, a charge that carried 20 years in prison. So she cooperated with the prosecutors, something that would normally lead to a reduction in sentences, but got... no leniency in the end.

Not surprisingly, one federal judge was beyond appalled, delayed the sentencing (before, eventually, granting a motion to reconsider and recusing himself), and accused prosecutors of abusing the plea agreement process:
"For some prosecutors in the Southern District of Illinois, prosecutions are driven by statistics and a desire to prevent judges from exercising any control over the sentencing process without regard for the individual. Although not rising to the level of mean-spiritedness, the words arbitrary and capricious come to mind," Gilbert said Tuesday during a motion hearing on the case. ...

Gilbert accused the prosecution of making "illusory" promises in the agreements and said, "At least in this district, these so-called plea agreements are one-way streets and are unenforceable at sentencing by either the defendant or the Court."

He went on to say that in Heath's case, where she was already punished by the state for her conduct, "I strongly believe our government has failed here in that they have not been objective, abused their discretion and are not treating [Heath] with a concern for fairness or justice. In fact, sentencing [Heath] to prison for 20 years would be a miscarriage of justice."
That all sounds about right, although I'm curious to know why he doesn't think this "ris[es] to the level of mean-spiritedness."
-- Brad Plumer 5:45 PM || ||