Plea bargaining

In the US, many criminal cases are resolved through a process called “plea bargaining”. It works like this.

The police arrest a suspect and charge him with first degree murder. The suspect may or may not be guilty. He is informed by his lawyer that if the case goes to trial, he may be found not guilty and go free. On the other hand, if he is found guilty, he will be sentenced to death.

The prosecution offers a deal. Plead guilty and the prosecution will recommend a life sentence instead of death. That’s the choice. Exercise your right to go to trial and you may go free or you may die. Waive your right to a trial and at least you’ll live.

Imagine the horror of being presented with such a choice, especially if you’re innocent. In essence, the judicial process has been subverted and the prosecution, not a judge or a jury, decides the fate of the accused.

It is even worse when two people are charged and one is offered a reduced sentence for testifying against the other. There have been cases of the actual murderer getting life and the accomplice getting death!

I believe very strongly that this system is plain evil and should be abolished. If the prosecution has evidence of guilt, they should charge the defendant accordingly and let the jury decide guilt.

The very existance of this system is frightening and I’m surprised there is not more discussion of the injustice of it.

What do you think?

well, we’ve been busy, haven’t we?

I understand and agree that there are some issues with a system that allows for plea bargains. However, to call it universally evil isn’t quite accurate either. And, in many cases, the accused actually is better off.

Truth is, we have more cases going through the system than we can afford to handle w/o a plea bargain system. If all cases went to trial, we’d have to hire loads of more judges, prosecutors etc to handle the work load. IN my paper today, for example, one judge is listed with 17 different cases that were sentenced. If each and every single one took the right to a jury trial, that would have tied up 204 sitting jurors (with additional ones having to be called to seat a jury), and quite a bit more time than it did w/plea bargains.

Plea bargaining system is a comprimise, and as such, imperfect.

I think some things can be done to reduce some of the risks, but I’m not in favor of doing away with it entirely. I’m also not in favor of doing away w/accomplice testimony totally or snitchs (tho’ I’m surprised you didn’t include this too, since it’s been central to the case in several serious cases where an innocent person was impriosoned).

But do away w/it entirelY? nope

The idea of plea bargaining occasionally annoys me, but I don’t find it frightening. The majority of cases are solved through plea bargaining, not “many.” The justice system would grind to a halt without it, as there simply aren’t enough judges and courtrooms to give every defendent in the country a fair and speedy trial.

I remember a case where a man was willing to plead guilty to murders he hadn’t committed, but the police luckily realized they had the wrong suspect. That this happens on occasion doesn’t mean the whole system is “just plain evil.” The vast majority of cases don’t involve life-and-death matters, either in the crime or in the sentencing. Whether it’s evil to let a car thief waive his or her right to a trial isn’t quite the same as whether it’s evil to let a man or woman face trial for something he or she didn’t do.

If anyone should decry the existence of plea bargaining, it should be the victims of the crimes, since they are the only people who don’t benefit. The courts get their dockets lightened, the prosecutor gets a check in the conviction column, and the perpetrator gets a lesser crime, lesser sentence and saves money on legal defense. Victims might get some satisfaction in that the perpetrator is serving some sentence, but they also get to watch this person who has harmed them in some way escape the full brunt of their crime.

As the last point in a post way-too-long post, a plea bargain must be offered by the prosecution, accepted by the defense and approved by the judge. Defendants don’t have to agree to plea bargains. If a defendent is just hell-bent on taking a case to a jury, he or she can do it.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.

First off, IANAL (yet). Now then.

Well, I can’t say for everywhere, or every case, but for the one I’ve been a victim of, in the state of Colorado, the victim must approve any planned plea bargain before the prosecution can offer it to the accused. I believe that this is the case across the board for felony crimes here, but I’m not positive. I was told that the usual plea bargain offer in my case would have been to replace the prison time with probation, which I don’t think I would have approved anyway. If anyone with more knowledge on this in other states or in more general circumstances wants to step in here, please do.

plea bargains can benefit the victim - if nothing at all else, not everyone relishes the idea of taking time off work to be part of a trial, may not desire to be on the witness stand (haven’t we all watched Law & Order? ) and/or see the perpetrator again.

sometimes it can be catharthic, other times for other people it can be traumatic.

The threat of prosecution for a particular crime is only truly a threat if there is a real chance at conviction. If there is a real chance of conviction, then if there were no plea bargaining permitted in the system one would expect prosecution to be pursued. Therefore, there is no benefit to not permitting plea bargaining in the system.

How to avoid a bad plea bargain:

  1. Do not make a plea unless you did what you are charged with. Ever. Never, ever, ever. Just go to trial with a good lawyer.

  2. If indeed you did do the dirty deed, have a lawyer review the Crown disclosure and evaluate the odds of a conviction and give you advice as to whether you should go to trial or plea bargain.

By subverting the system of trial by jury , we shortchange not only the defendant, but society as well. We have a right to a thorough accounting of the circumstances of a crime.

It is not acceptable that there is such a high level of crime that each case cannot be heard by a jury. We can simply hire more judges and pay jurors a living wage.

The constitutions says “trial by a jury of his peers”; not “unless a deal is made with the prosecution.”

By the way, does this monstosity exist in other countries? European dopers?


I hope all these new judges, clerks, prosecutors, and court-appointed attorneys don’t mind getting paid in magical fairy money.

I am a prosecutor in Scotland.

Like the States, without plea-bargaining (or plea adjustment as it’s now called!) the system would grind to a halt. We simply do not have the time and/or resources to take every case to trial, and rely on accused pleading to reduced charges to keep the system running.

There is no requirement to “clear” the suggested plea with the victim, although I often will have a discussion withthe victim if I think it appropriate.

Unless I have some sort of witness problem that will put the whole case at risk, and thus result in no conviction, no reduced plea I take will have any appreciable affect on the final sentence. Plea bargaining is not used to avoid difficult trials, nor to save money, merely as a means to avoid unnecessary waste of court time, and more importantly, to avoid the need for a victim to give evidence - which can be an extremely stressful experience.

Plea-bargaining is not some sort of great evil, but a very useful tool. Of course, in an ideal world, we would not need to use this tool as the justice system would be fully funded, and all witnesses would be honest, and remember everything they saw, and they would turn up to court when required without complaint! (In an ideal world there would be no crime, of course!)

On a separate note, there is no right to trial by jury in Scotland. The prosecution decides if you go before a jury or not, and the judge’s sentencing powers are higher if the trial is a jury trial (even if you plead guilty).

I’ve never heard of society having a “right” for an accounting of the crime. Instead, criminal defendants have a right to a trial by jury. You seem to be suggesting a system where they do not have a right, but must be forced to have a jury decide his guilt, even if he knows he is guilty. If we implemented such a system, you would likely be offended because what would happen is that a jury would be selected and empaneled, the defendant would plead guilty, then the judge would assess punishment at an amount suggested by both sides - trial by jury with the same result as plea bargaining, but with a vast waste of time and resources. If you are going to have a right, you have the choice to exercise it. your system of compulsory jury trials gives less meaning to a right to a jury trial than the present system does.

The trouble galen is that your premise is faulty. The vast majority of plea bargains occur because the defendant was charged with the crime he commited, the state can easily prove his guilt, and the offered punishment is fair in light of the circumstances of his crime. It is worth noting, that this makes bad TV and therefore, is rarely the plot of a TV show or movie.