Getting charged with a federal crime is terrifying. However, many people fail to realize exactly how much trouble they're really in, thanks to the onslaught of mandatory minimum sentences.
Back in the 1980s when the U.S. government went full-tilt into the "War on Drugs," legislators did something that has had a profound effect on the criminal justice system and American society in general. Essentially, they took a lot of authority out of the hands of the judges who oversee criminal cases and made long prison sentences the norm -- regardless of the circumstances.
Many people believe that this was a massive mistake. America now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, prisons are overcrowded, parole is limited and people of color are also disproportionally affected because they're more likely to be arrested in the first place due to racial profiling.
None of this is reducing the crime rate. In fact, it may just lead to more crime in the end because "second chances" for anyone with a felony record are virtually non-existent in an age where everybody is subjected to background checks before they can get a job, rent an apartment or anything else.
Even worse, there's considerable evidence that many defendants are not getting a fair trial -- or any trial at all. They're overcharged by prosecutors and then offered a deal in exchange for a guilty plea that guarantees them a set number of years in jail. If they take their chances at trial, they're often keenly aware that losing means facing a much, much longer sentence. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) recently likened the situation to defendants "being coerced to plead guilty."
These are the reasons that defendants charged with a crime need an experienced defense attorney by their side -- especially today. If you've been charged with a crime, don't hesitate to seek legal counsel.