Interesting story at Outside the Beltway. Excerpts:
Prior to 1980, the percentage of cases resolved by guilty pleas was anything but consistent. But since then the trend has risen sharply from seventy-seven percent to, according to a recent Supreme Court case opinion, “[n]inety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.”
By passing laws with fixed-minimum sentences for almost all crimwes, legislatures, beginning largely in the 1980′s, removed discretion over offender sentencing from judges and handed prosecutors the power to determine which sentence a defendant will receive.Judges have no power to override the mandatory prison terms these laws carry, regardless of the individual circumstances of each case. This is especially troubling because of the overly punitive penalties these laws carry. Even worse, when a case does goes to trial, the jury doesn’t even know how much time a defendant faces.