What Is the Real Cost of Plea Bargains?
The practice of plea bargains has been accused as being more about efficiency than fairness; sometimes, plea bargains don’t take into account who is innocent. The American Bar Association published a report that showed how plea bargains play into 98% of all criminal cases that are seen in federal court on an annual basis.
Plea Bargains Have Greatly Reduced the Number of Trials
The task force that the ABA employed for this report was made up of judges, prosecutors, academics and criminal defense attorneys. They found that numerous innocent individuals were persuaded to plead guilty and accept a plea bargain. This is owed in no small part to the amount of influence carried by prosecutors, who often make it a point to remind defendants that they will have to face a mandatory minimum sentence that may span decades if they do choose to go to trial.
In the majority of judicial districts in the United States, a standard trial is exceedingly hard to find. The trend has gotten to the point that trials rarely ever happen in some places. In other areas, they have been eliminated entirely according to a report by the ABA Plea Bargain Task Force.
In the federal court system, the number of trials held is already meager. And to add to this problem, certain states like Texas, Pennsylvania and New York have trial rates that are less than 3%. For Santa Cruz County in Arizona, no trials at all took place between 2010 and 2012, according to the ABA’s report.
What Makes Plea Bargains So Popular?
Plea bargains have greatly increased in prevalence, and as they have grown more widespread, countless innocent defendants have been put at risk. This is a trend that has been going on for decades. Plea bargains cost the court less, cost less in lawyer fees, and have a quick resolution, and all of these things could be attractive to someone who is accused of a crime and has little faith in a fair resolution from the justice system.
Why Are Plea Bargains a Problem?
In some cases, bad behavior from law enforcement and government officials doesn’t get the checks and balances that it should as a result of plea bargains. Misconduct and errors tend to only come out once a Morristown criminal defense lawyer has been able to access materials like witness interviews. It is often through the help of these materials that a government case’s strength can be tested before it goes to trial.
Another issue that plea bargains bring up and add to is racial inequality. For instance, when a defendant is black, they are more likely to face multiple charges stacked up against them in cases that involve gun or drug charges.
When a defendant does opt to go to trial rather than give in to a plea bargain, the sentence tends to be significantly more severe. This is called the trial penalty, and statistics show that it will often lead to sentences that are as much as seven to nine years longer.
The Rise in False Guilty Pleas
The instances where defendants who are innocent agreed to plead guilty stood out the most in the ABA’s report. As part of the Innocence Project, there is a database that shows dozens of exonerations for individuals who agreed to a guilty plea even though they were innocent.
One of the task force’s co-chairs, Lucian Dervan, emphasized the impact this trend has on the community as a whole. The consequences are not just limited to the individuals who enter into plea bargains. On the contrary, community safety in general is threatened by the normalization of this practice.
This co-chair is also the creator of the Plea Bargaining Institute, which generates and shares research on the issue. Dervan has made it clear that an overhaul of the justice system is past due. The Belmont University law professor also says that it won’t be an easy job since there will likely have to be alterations to ethics rules and laws in numerous states across the U.S.
There have been a total of 14 official recommendations that have come from the ABA task force. Top among these is the need to gather and analyze plea bargain data. The task force also recommends that defendants are given access to discover materials prior to entering a plea bargain. Additionally, the need to do away with pretrial detention and bail requirements when used to try to convince a defendant to plead guilty was underlined.
Call Gregg Wisotsky today for a Morristown criminal defense lawyer who can evaluate your case. You can reach us at 973-898-0161.
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