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Plea Bargaining

Essay by   •  December 9, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,375 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,814 Views

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Being a citizen of the United States comes with advantages that no other country can match. We are granted rights and privileges just for being born within our borders. Others can also gain these rights by adopting our way of life and swearing to uphold its values. Being a citizen or not, we are expected to obey laws that the U.S. Government has put in place to maintain order and balance. When we don't obey these laws the government has the right to punish us. Luckily for us our Bill of Rights has even granted us rights until proven guilty. It gives us rights to a fair and speedy trial as well as the right to representation during trial. So many rights and procedures have come about since the birth of our nation. We are constantly making new rules to help uphold the old rules and deciding if the old rules still apply. One practice that has been used during trial has no mention in the Bill of Rights, but has been held as constitutional is plea-bargaining.

The plea bargain was a tool rarely used before the 19th century in prosecution. "In America, it can be traced almost to the very emergence of public prosecution, although not exclusive to the U.S., developed earlier and more broadly here than most places." Plea-bargaining was limited because judges controlled most sentencing. Judges did not appreciate the workload relief until personal injury cases skyrocketed during the industrial era.

A plea bargain can be defined as, "a negotiation between the defendant and his attorney on one side and the prosecutor on the other, in which the defendant agrees to plead "guilty" or "no contest" to some crimes, in return for reduction of the severity of the charges, dismissal of some of the charges, the prosecutor's willingness to recommend a particular sentence or some other benefit to the defendant. Sometimes one element of the bargain is that the defendant reveal information such as location of stolen goods, names of others participating in the crime or admission of other crimes. The judge must agree to the result of the plea bargain before accepting the plea. If he does not, then the bargain is cancelled."

One could wonder why plea bargains are even made. One reason would be that criminal courts are becoming clogged and overcrowded. Going through the proper procedure and processes that we are granted takes time. Trials can take anywhere from days to months for every case. Unpredictability also plays a role in why plea bargains have overtaken our court system. No one knows how juries will react in certain situations. For most defendants the incentives far outweigh the disadvantages. One benefit is receiving a lighter sentence on a lighter charge than they would have received if gone to trial and lost. They pretty well know that they will be found guilty so they help the court by pleading guilty and saving them time. In return, the court offers a lighter sentence for the plea. Another benefit of plea-bargaining is monetary. If represented by private counsel, the defendant usually spends a bundle on their fees. It takes less time and effort to go through a plea bargain that does a trial. Some other reasons are to have less socially stigmatizing offense on one's record. Another is just to avoid publicity and the hassle of minor offenses.

Pleas don't come without drawbacks or dangers. Some fear that an innocent defendant may be pressured into a confession and plea out of fear of a more severe penalty if convicted. Another drawback is that some vicious criminals will get lenient treatment and get less than they deserve and be back out in a shorter time. "More than 90% of convictions come from negotiated pleas, which means that less than 10% of criminal cases result in trial." This statistic starts to answer a question I had about our system. "What are the effects of plea bargaining in our courts and should there be more control over them?" The obvious effects are that fewer cases actually go to trial. With less cases actually going to trial, less money is spent investigating those cases that actually make it to trial. Saving taxpayers dollars was a main opinion of many students in response to this question. Time saved was another majority of opinion when asked this question. The feeling was mixed with good and bad emotions about plea-bargaining. Most though it was good because of the money and time saved moving criminals through quickly. It would also help in the prison overcrowding situation some said. Because of the quick movement through the system, some thought that criminals were being treated to leniently. Just to get them out of the way, they let them plea to a lesser charge and they are back out in less time than they would have served, or no time at all was served.

The second part of the question deemed to be more difficult since most didn't have an opinion about it. A few chose to briefly reflect on it and there answers were quite alike. If you want more control over plea bargains, than you need more money to hire more prosecutors to try more cases.

There happens to be sources that think that plea-bargaining is wrong and or needs changing. The ones that think it is wrong do give some reasons as to why they think this. Criminal justice needs a judge or moderator between the prosecutor and defendant. Defense lawyers have become acceptors of fees as guilty plea negotiators. Juries no longer get to determine a person's guilt or to even be considered in the majority of cases. The prosecutor uses the threat of much greater punishment from trial if they do not accept the plea. Political rewards are greater for a prosecutor with greater conviction rates, which include plea bargains.

There are some that that think the government is pushing prosecutors into the judges' chair by an evolving plea-bargaining system. There are factors that aid in plea-bargaining system. Longer sentences for many crimes play a role. Mandatory sentencing imposed on judges is also a factor. This is so that every specific crime requires a sentence within a specified range. This leaves almost no discretion by the judge. "No prohibition upon "over-charging" by prosecutors when they prepare an indictment or other accusatory instruments; the prosecutors routinely charge far more than they believe they would be able to prove at trial, for the extortionate purposes of requiring the defendant to defend against criminal charges which could put the defendant in prison for perhaps 50 to 60 years."

There are also arguments that hold plea-bargaining as unconstitutional. Some of these reasons are denial of due process, cruel and unusual punishment by extortion of the prosecutor, and improper delegation of power. Others are denial of equal protection of law, denial of a right to



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