People facing the possibility of conviction on drug charges in Washington may have reason to wonder whether the court is judging them on the basis of the evidence or on preconceived perceptions and extraneous information.

Six months ago, a man pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful gun possession and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine upon appearing in a Washington court. Extradition had taken place from Mexico, where he had been living since 2011 after allegedly attempting to sell a gun to an undercover law enforcement agent. From Mexico, the prosecution claims, he used social media and other communication tools to continue to manage the local drug business. It is unusual for U.S. courts to take the step to request extradition from Mexico for someone to stand trial in this country.

Sentencing took place last week, and the judge imposed a jail term of 20 years upon the 39-year-old man. The judge expressed hope that the remorse the man expressed before the court was genuine, yet did not accept the protestations of the man and his attorney that he was allegedly under threat of violence from superiors in the drug cartel as an excuse for the wrongdoing to which he admitted. It is unclear how the 20 years the judge handed down compare with what the prosecution requested in sentencing documents.

It appears that the prosecution tried to play upon prejudices and fears, as well as bring up unfounded allegations, to achieve a tougher sentence. Prosecutors referred to the man as a “cartel manager straight out of central casting” in what appears to be an attempt to paint an unflattering caricature of him. In addition, the prosecution brought up claims that the man had ordered a cartel worker killed, despite the fact that no court has brought any murder charges against him, meaning that the allegations were irrelevant to the sentencing proceeding, according to the defense attorney.

The court system has rules to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial, but someone needs to stand up and invoke them. It can be helpful for those facing drug charges to hire an attorney who understands the applicable rules, laws and protocols.