New report: 98% of federal felony cases end up in plea deals

New report: 98% of federal felony cases end up in plea deals
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As you hopefully already know, in every episode of Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co I feature a segment called the “Recidivist Report” where I highlight a current case from the criminal justice system involving someone who copped an incredible plea deal allowing them to avoid severe consequences, even for serious crimes. Unfortunately there’s no shortage of stories for me to cover, especially with readers and viewers sending me stories from their neck of the woods. This morning, for instance, a reader named Michael shared this piece about an Ohio man named Nahya Wimpye, who was recently sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison for possessing an AK-style pistol as a convicted felon. Though Wimpye is only 24-years-old, he’s managed to rack up an impressive criminal history in his young life.

On Christmas Day 2020, police pulled over the car in which Nahya Wimpye was a passenger and found a loaded gun that prosecutors described as “the pistol equivalent of an AK-47.”
At the time, Wimpye was still under supervision by authorities after serving two years in state prison for illegally possessing a gun as well as trying to escape from police. He had been released from prison about seven months before.
But those convictions only tell part of the story. Wimpye pleaded guilty in 2018 to the gun and escape charges in exchange for prosecutors dismissing more serious charges, including two counts of felonious assault. In one case, Wimpye was accused of shooting a man in the face during a robbery, according to court documents. In another, he was accused of shooting a juvenile in the lower back. Both victims survived.
Court records don’t specify why prosecutors dismissed the more serious charges, but it’s possible the victims wouldn’t cooperate. He wasn’t allowed to possess a gun in 2018 because he had been convicted of assaulting a corrections officer.
… After being charged in state court, Wimpye was out on bond when he was arrested at least one more time for illegally possessing a gun, officials aid. He was indicted on the federal gun charge in October 2021.
In court documents, prosecutors said Wimpye’s criminal history is filled with “gun offenses, assaults on law enforcement and violations of prison rules.”
Wimpye, prosecutors said, “has been a criminal since he was 13 years old and continues the pattern of illegally possessing firearms despite all attempts to disarm him.”
And yet time and time again Wimpye keeps getting plea deals and far less time than he would be subjected to if he was convicted of the original charges at trial. Wimpye is not an outlier in the criminal justice system either. As the American Bar Association’s Plea Bargain Task Force revealed in a new report this week, fully 98% of federal criminal cases end in plea bargains rather than a trial, and the numbers are just as bad in many states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York.
This is not what a fully functioning criminal justice system looks like, and the over-reliance on plea deals to keep pace with caseloads comes with all kinds of issues. In some cases defendants may be overcharged in the hopes of convincing them to take a deal, but the ABA also notes that for some prosecutors, plea bargains are the “means to mitigate the excessive harshness of the modern American criminal system.”
We can argue whether or not the punishment for many crimes are excessively harsh, but I’m willing to stipulate that’s the case for at least some statutes. I just don’t think the solution is to plea bargain violent felonies down to non-violent misdemeanors or possessory offenses; a tactic that’s aided and abetted by the gun control lobby, which specializes in turning the right to keep and bear arms into a series of interlocking criminal offenses that can not only entrap responsible gun owners but are often dangled as plea bargain bait for those accused of more serious crimes. Every gun or magazine ban, “sensitive place” designation, and gun licensing law is another chance for prosecutors and criminals alike to use plea bargains to their benefit. District Attorneys can tout their incredibly high conviction rates, while violent offenders can reduce their sentences by years, and in some cases, decades.
The ABA task force didn’t look specifically at the role gun control laws play in the overwhelming number of plea bargains that are offered to defendants, but the authors of the report did determine that the use of plea deals, particularly in drug and gun-related cases “promotes and exacerbates existing racial inequality in the criminal justice system.”
The Task Force collected testimony from experts in the field who demonstrated that throughout the plea process similarly situated defendants of color fare worse than white defendants. Black defendants in drug cases, for instance, are less likely to receive favorable plea offers that avoid mandatory minimum sentences and, as a result, receive higher sentences for the same charges as white defendants. The same is true for gun cases, in which Black defendants are more often subjected to charge stacking—a technique that allows prosecutors to pile on many charges, increasing the likely sentence after trial and the government’s leverage during plea negotiations – than white defendants.
The laundry list of gun laws in places like New York provide prosecutors with plenty of opportunity to pile on charges that come with mandatory prison time before offering up a plea deal that would result in probation or a few months in jail. The amicus brief filed by New York public defenders in the Bruen case is replete with examples of how this works in practice for those arrested for the “violent” felony of possessing a firearm without a license, like Benjamin Prosser.
At the police precinct after his arrest, Mr. Prosser confessed to possessing the gun for self-defense. He had repeatedly been the victim of violent stranger assaults and robberies on the street. When he started a job that required that he travel two hours for work every day, he decided to carry a firearm. He did not possess it with any intent to engage in violence, but his experiences taught him that he needed a weapon to be safe. In response, the prosecution charged him, like so many others, with N.Y. Penal Law § 265.03(3), a violent felony. After lengthy plea negotiations, the prosecution offered him a “deal” to a probation sentence on a plea to a lesser charge—also a violent felony—because he had previously been a victim of violence. Afraid of the 3.5-to-15-year mandatory sentencing range on the top count, Mr. Prosser accepted the offer.
Because of New York’s carry licensing requirement, Mr. Prosser’s once-bright future will forever be marked with the scarlet letter of “violent felon.” He is barred from serving on a jury.
He is prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm and is forever ineligible for a firearm license under New York’s law. And he will face the worst kind of “‘civil death’ of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check.”
Mr. Prosser is grateful not to be incarcerated. However, he is also deeply disheartened, struggling with the idea of being another nameless casualty in a licensing system that was designed to preclude him from exercising his rights.
The overwhelming reliance on plea deals is a huge problem in and of itself, just like the toxic ideology of the gun control movement. But these issues are also entwined together; allowing those facing serious criminal charges to escape the consequences of their action while subjecting responsible gun owners to a host of restrictions on a fundamental right. I’m glad to see the ABA highlighting some of these issues, though I don’t hold out much hope that it will spur the organization to take a second look at their own support for turning the rights protected by the Second Amendment into a never-ending catalog of non-violent crimes.

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