In 1986, Congress passed The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which
established long mandatory minimum prison terms for low-level drug dealing and
possession of crack cocaine. The typical mandatory sentence for a first-time
drug offense would merit no more than six months in jail, if any at all. State
legislatures were eager to jump on the “get tough” bandwagon, passing harsh
drug laws, as well as “three strikes” laws mandating a life sentence for those
convicted of any third offense. These mandatory minimum schemes have transformed
an enormous amount of power from judges to prosecutors. Now, simply by charging
someone with an offense carrying a mandatory sentence of ten to fifteen years
or life, prosecutors are able to force people to plead guilty rather than risk
a decade or more in prison. Prosecutors admit that they routinely charge people
with crimes for which they technically have probable cause but which they
seriously doubt could ever win in court. Furthermore, under the federal
sentencing guidelines, providing substantial assistance is often the only way
defendants can hope to obtain a sentence below the mandatory minimum. The
assistance provided by snitches is notoriously unreliable, as studies have
documented countless informants who have fabricated stories about drug-related and
other criminal activity in exchange for money or leniency in their pending
criminal cases.