The Department of Justice (DOJ) throws every potential criminal complaint at anybody they target for prosecution in order to intimidate them with the threat of decades in prison in order to secure plea agreements for lesser sentences and avoid trial. But it goes further than that. Once DOJ prosecutors have defendants terrified and ready to sign off on just a couple of months or years in prison (rather than fighting the charges), some prosecutors then turn the screws by requiring these defendants to waive the right to later claim they received bad advice from their attorneys as part of accepting the deal. Therefore, these defendants are later hamstrung in their ability to fight back.
But that's going to change, as Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to step down. He's told his prosecutors to knock it off. They have to stop demanding defendants waive their rights as part of a guilty plea. From The Washington Post:
The Justice Department said Tuesday that it will no longer ask criminal defendants who plead guilty to waive their right to claim that their attorney was ineffective and deprived them of their constitutional right to a competent counsel.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the new policy, his latest effort to reform the criminal justice system, is an attempt to ensure that all individuals who face criminal charges are ably represented.
"Everyone in this country who faces criminal legal action deserves the opportunity to make decisions with the assistance of effective legal counsel," Holder said in a statement. "Under this policy, no defendant will have to forego their right to able representation in the course of pleading guilty to a crime."
Some U.S. attorney's offices no longer ask defendants to waive their right to make future claims about the effectiveness of their counsel. But before this week, 35 of the Justice Department's 94 U.S. attorney's offices still did.
Not only does this order tell prosecutors to stop demanding these waivers moving forward, it also instructs them to stop enforcing waivers that have already been signed, according to the Post.