Criminology - Thoughts On Plea Bargaining

KWM
SOCL 4461
May 07, 2001
The current tone of the criminal justice system, particularly the prosecution phase, emphasizes, “clearing the docket”. While this is true of both civil and criminal courts, it is very much encouraged in criminal matters where the prosecution likely has the upper hand on most, if not all, defendants. As a result, the practice of Plea Bargaining is over used and likely results in many injustices.
The fact of the matter is that the state, who is for all practical purposes the prosecution, has unlimited resources and will not hesitate to use these resources to prosecute a crime, particularly a high profile crime such as murder or rape.
The defendant on the other hand is more likely to be a person without means and in many instances is represented by a public defender, which is an attorney, on the states payroll, to defend those who cannot afford an attorney for themselves.
Considering that the prosecution or state is also the employer of the defense attorney implies an inherent problem to begin with. Add to this the fact that public defenders most frequently are assigned to the same courts and work with the same judges and prosecutors on a daily basis, often befriending them in the process and you have the makeup for many misdeeds.
It is not unheard of for prosecutors and defense attorneys, both paid and public defenders, to trade off cases, which are important to each other. In general, the way this works is the prosecutor who has a case that is for whatever reason important to him and offers to cut the defense attorney a little slack on his next important case if the defense attorney encourages his client to plead guilty on the current case.
While many would suggest that this does not occur, I have personally witnessed such events and was embarrassed for our system that this is allowed to occur. Further, I was amazed that the judge was fully aware of what was occurring and supported the plea agreement.
The whole process of plea agreements is, in my opinion, tainted. The mere thought that we would encourage someone to plead guilty rather than “risk a trial in which he might be found guilty and piss the judge off” is immoral.
Is not the purpose of our criminal justice system in fact to ensure that everyone has a fair trial in front of his peers? Nowhere was it believed in the creation of our system that a judge should penalize someone for exercising his right to a public trial. However, that is exactly what occurs each and every day in the courtrooms across our country and this practice is even encouraged in many of the sentencing guidelines used in both federal and state courts today.
Judges are so focused on clearing the docket that justice has become the second or third concern and the way to clear the docket is to accept pleas all day long and never have a trial.
By threatening an accused person with a harsher sentence if he elects to go to trial, we have totally bypassed the fundamental rights of American citizens, which we were granted by the constitutional amendments. How can we impose a greater penalty because one chooses a trial and give someone who accepts a plea bargain a better deal, for the sake of saving time and money, when in fact the crimes may be identical or even worse the one with the better deal committed a much worse crime.
Additionally, how many persons have accepted plea bargains at the suggestion of a defense attorney simply because the accused or defense did not have the financial means or resources to put on a sufficient defense. Again, these pleas are likely the result of fearing a harsher sentence if a trial was chosen.
Yes, in many cases the prosecution has a strong case. However, how many times have we witnessed in the last twenty years, long-term convictions being overturned because a witness made a mistake, or a police officer was found to have planted evidence or lied at the trial. These and other injustices do occur and if a defense attorney advises a client to accept a plea agreement to avoid trial and a potentially harsher sentence based on