Attorney General John Ashcroft is an idiot! OK, maybe that is a bit strong. What I mean to say is that he is an ideologue who is driven to the point of being impractical.
Case in point:
Today the NYTimes is reporting that Ashcroft has issued a directive to federal prosecutors requiring them to always charge defendants with the "most serious, readily provable offense" and not to engage in plea negotiations thereafter.
Nevermind that experts say such a move could swamp our courts with defendants going to trial rather than plea-bargaining for lighter sentences. Ashcroft has a political point to make and he won't let something as inconvenient as reality get in the way.
"If even just a small fraction of the 96 percent of all defendants who currently plead guilty end up going to trial, the courts will be overrun in no time," said Marc Mauer, the assistant director of the Sentencing Project, a research group in Washington that supports prisoners' rights.
"David Burnham, co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks data on federal law enforcement, said the Justice Department could not significantly reduce plea bargains "without collapsing the entire court system."
Plea bargains "are a necessary thing," Mr. Burnham said. "Plea bargains have been used historically because the courts don't have time to have trials. Charges are reduced to encourage prisoners to avoid going to trial, and we just don't have enough judges to do it differently. If you force everyone to go to trial, you'd have to hire a lot more judges."
Oh, I get it! This must be part of Bush's plan to try to create more jobs to make up for some of the thousands that have been lost under his watch.
"Alan Vinegrad, a former United States attorney in Brooklyn, said the change represented a philosophical shift. "There is less of a focus on justice and more of a focus on efficiency," Mr. Vinegrad said."
Well, we wouldn't want too much "justice" in our judicial system. It's just not very efficient. What we need is fewer prosecutors who think for themselves and more automatons who act like rubber stamps.
The NYTimes ran a guest op-ed on this issue in the Sunday paper -
A Practice as Old as Justice Itself