A 56-year old woman is serving a life sentence in Texas federal prison for being reportedly “tricked” into smuggling drugs and money across the Mexican border. Others accused of much worse are serving far lighter sentences. The difference? Elisa Castillo refused to bargain with prosecutors.
Plea bargains are the way of the United States criminal justice system. Over 95% of cases are resolved when a defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for reduced charges or a lenient sentence. But Castillo refused to plead guilty for something she says she was innocent of.
According to the Houston Chronicle, she was “convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy.” In many other cases of big-time crime bosses, the defendant has bargaining tools like information on the crime ring, names, or something that would sway the prosecutor to offer a more lenient sentence in exchange for information. Castillo didn’t have any of that.
She is serving a life sentence in the federal prison system. She will never be eligible for parole.
“Put yourself in m shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” said Castillo. “I don’t say I’m perfect. I am not…but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”
Castillo started a bus company with a Mexican partner at the urging of her boyfriend. But the buses were leaving Mexico with more drugs than passengers. She maintains she didn’t know anything about the drugs, but the jury felt otherwise.
Most defendants who share information, telling the prosecutor how they committed the offense or who else was involved, can paint themselves in a better light, as a cooperator with the law. In Castillo’s case she was sentenced to the maximum allowable penalty for her lack of cooperation.
“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” said Terry Nelson, a former federal agent and now board member of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organization. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”
While Castillo’s case was a federal one, the same game plan is used by state prosecutors, offering lenient sentences for those willing to wheel and deal, and promises of lengthy prison terms for those who do not.
Facing criminal charges is scary enough without being threatened by prosecutors. If you are charged with a serious drug offense in the state of Texas, you need an experienced local defense attorney on your side. Contact our offices today to discuss your case and what can be done to minimize its potential impact on your life.