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How federal sentencing guidelines are forcing guilty pleas

If you've paid any attention to the university admission scandal that's been rocking academia and the entertainment industry lately, you've probably heard people ask why Lori Loughlin didn't accept a plea bargain.

The reason that everyone is asking this question is that most people are aware that taking a case to trial -- especially one it looks like the defendant might lose -- means risking a much longer, tougher sentence. That's largely why many of the other parents and coaches involved in the scandal, including actress Felicity Huffman, already entered guilty pleas.

The prosecution maintains that the additional charges of money laundering that they tagged onto Loughlin's existing list of charges were not retaliation for refusing to take a plea. However, prosecutors will often "overcharge" a defendant to increase the pressure to agree to a deal.

In fact, many legal experts feel like the American criminal justice system is near the breaking point -- or already broken. The severe, mandatory sentences for federal crimes all but guarantee prison for most defendants who are convicted.

Because the federal court system is so overloaded, prosecutors have a great deal of incentive to push for a plea deal -- and they get them 97% of the time. The goal, according to many criminal defense attorneys, isn't justice. It's about keeping the system moving and getting a conviction. In the words of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, federal defendants are essentially forced into guilty pleas "because the penalty for exercising their constitutional rights is simply too high a risk."

Money laundering, fraud, and other white collar crimes are treated very harshly these days. Make sure that you get experienced legal advice before you make any decisions about your case.

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