Intelligence Squared U.S.: Do U.S. Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?
American laws have become so complex that they are both difficult to understand, and difficult to comply with. For crimes subject to mandatory minimum sentences, where judicial discretion is limited, defendants are at risk for very long jail terms. The right to trial by jury is codified in the Bill of Rights, but in reality, over 90% of both federal and state court cases never go trial, but are resolved, instead, through plea bargaining. And banks have paid tens of billions of dollars in fines in recent years, without any judicial determinations of wrongdoing. Chaotic criminal code, mandatory minimums, and the undermining of trial by jury—in combination, these factors have given prosecutors enormous bargaining power, and many opportunities to use those powers abusively. But is abuse endemic? And would changes reducing the leverage of prosecutors in the criminal justice system weaken their ability to effectively prosecute crimes of great complexity? Do prosecutors have too much power?(Presented in partnership with Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago.)