Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We take requests

For some reason I don't really understand, a commenter think I should discuss plea bargaining. I'm not a lawyer nor an expert on the legal system, so I'll outsource this to Dylan Walsh.

In a pistachio shell, the criminal justice system is totally dependent on plea bargaining, it would collapse under the weight of trials. Plea bargaining aids investigations by allowing prosecutors to squeeze lower-level offenders to provide information about bigger fish, which is okay so long as the information they give is honest. We would hope that prosecutors will take pains to get corroboration but they probably encourage dubious testimony sometimes.

Probably the worst downside is that the legal representation provided to indigent defendants is totally inadequate. Even if they're innocent, they often feel they can't afford the risk of going to trial and may plead guilty to avoid the danger of a heavy sentence. Walsh discusses some efforts to ameliorate this problem, such as allowing bench trials (judge no jury) which allows for a larger volume of trials. I'm not so crazy about this however because judges pay a lot of deference to police and prosecutors. Personally, I'd rather have a jury. Walsh doesn't mention it, but eliminating most pre-trial detention would also help. He starts off with a story of a guy who pled out just so he wouldn't have to spend six months in jail awaiting trial.

However, for defendants with the resources to hire good lawyers, I'm not so worried. If the prosecutor doesn't have a solid case, they can afford to go to trial. The problem with plea bargaining is the fundamental problem that crops up everywhere: justice, in the U.S., is for the rich.


mojrim said...

What we need is a public defender's office that is as well resourced as the prosecutor's AND require attorneys to rotate between them. For a start.

Anonymous said...

I see the flaws, and I agree. It's a terrible system...until I consider all the others.

That being said, a great improvement would be to eliminate plea bargaining.

The only argument FOR plea bargaining is expediency. There is no justice in a system where 97% of federal cases plea down. Allowing plea bargaining allows the guilty to get a lesser punishment and it encourages the innocent to plead guilty to avoid the possibility of a wrongful conviction on a higher charge.

Don Quixote said...

I love the ideals of this country but I detest and loathe the actualities. From the start--importing the first Africans to enslave exactly 400 years ago--to the government designed by rich Caucasian men to perpetuate their interests--it is a clusterfuck of entitlement, privilege for them at the expense of everyone else.

Anonymous said...

One of the criticisms of abandoning the plea bargaining practice is how the system would be overloaded. Well, that's really standing up for your ideals!

And while it will, indeed, require a larger system, there will be less cases filed. All those weak circumstantial cases prosecutors are using now to force a plea will likely not be filed.
I believe this will lead to fewer wrongful convictions.

Want more fairness in the justice system? Make 'em prove their case!

Mark P said...

About 40 years ago I was a newspaper reporter. I covered some trials for a particularly gruesome double murder. The state tried their best cases first, then the weakest one last. That defendant had a public defender who looked and sounded like he was straight out of law school. He was so inept that the county attorney, who happened to be sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered, "It's a shame that the quality of your defense depends on how much money you have." The attorney was so bad that I think the jury gave the defendant life in prison rather than the death penalty, as the other defendants had received, purely out of sympathy.